On August 21, 2017, the Sun will be partially eclipsed by the Moon all over the nation; only along a narrow track from coast to coast, will the Sun be totally eclipsed.

On August 21, 2017, the Sun will be partially eclipsed by the Moon all over the nation; only along a narrow track from coast to coast, will the Sun be totally eclipsed. For most of America, if you use special precautions to safely look, the Sun will appear shaped like a crescent, as the invisible Moon slowly passes part way in front.

The Sun is much too bright to look at directly without special precaution. Looking at the Sun with unfiltered binoculars or a telescope would blind a person.

Fortunately, using solar filters or indirect means to see a projected image on a screen, you can examine our star safely on any sunny day.

Without a telescope, you can use special solar filters that are mounted in eyeglass frames. Several companies are selling these in anticipation of the August eclipse. They are typically inexpensive. You can search online and shop around for “eclipse glasses” or “eclipse shades.” 

Note, the glasses are only to be used with eyes alone. They are NOT safe for the intense focus of a telescope or even binoculars. Special solar filters are available that fit over the front of the telescope or binoculars. Never use these filters, however, over the eyepiece. The focused rays can split the filter and burn your retina!

On any sunny day you can see the Sun safely in a variety of other ways:

With a pin hole in a closed window shade, the Sun will cast a small, dim image inside the darkened room, which you can catch on a white cardboard screen. This is an excellent way to see the crescent shape of the partially eclipsed Sun on eclipse day. Similarly, you can make a shoe box viewer with a pinhole on one end and a white screen on the other; the image will be very small. Another variation is to cap a long cardboard tube that held wrapping paper. Put a pinhole in the center of the cap. Rest the tube on your shoulder with the cap facing the Sun and your back to the Sun. Hold a white cardboard sheet in front of the open end of the tube, to see the solar image. Any tiny hole will do. Try this the next sunny day. Make a nearly clenched fist, leaving only a very narrow space; sunlight can be cast right on the palm of your other hand! Also look under a leafy tree. This is most amazing during a partial eclipse. The hundreds of tiny holes left between overlapping leaves will project hundreds of crescent suns on the ground! Hint: Lay a white sheet on the shaded grass for the best view. With a small round mirror, or a larger one mostly covered up with paper leaving a small, round hole, you can reflect a sharp image of the Sun on a white screen set up (or a white wall) in a shadowed area. Using a telescope or binoculars, you can safely project a magnified image of the Sun onto a white screen. Never use the small “finder scope” to look through, to line it up with the Sun. Instead, adjust your telescope by watching the shadow of the tube; once it becomes round, you have targeted the Sun. Using a white cardboard, hold it several inches away from the eyepiece. You may need to slowly adjust the tube but the Sun’s image will come onto the screen; focus and look for any dark sunspots, or during the eclipse, watch how the crescent progresses while the invisible Moon passes in front. NOTE: Be careful if children are around. Cover up or remove the finder scope, and do not let ANYONE look through the telescope unless there is a safe solar filter properly attached. Use a Sunspotter. This marvelous device was invented and patented by my late friend Daniel R. Janosik Sr. in the late 1970’s. He made over 1,000 of these in his home near Hawley, Pa., and sold them to schools and individuals across the country. His first version was cube-shaped. The second and most successful version was shaped like a triangle and open to see inside. It uses lenses and mirrors to conveniently project a sharp, magnified image of the Sun onto a white screen inside the device. It’s handy for group observing. After he died in 1995, a science education company bought the rights to improve the design, make and sell them.

For more information on seeing the Sun safely, visit NASA’s web page at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety .
Last quarter Moon is on July 16.
Keep looking up!

Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column. Please send your eclipse stories as well as reports and pictures of the August 21st solar eclipse!