I have never seen a solar eclipse, not even a partial one. Somehow the confluence of where I’ve lived and when has made it such that I have yet to see an eclipse happen on anything but my computer screen through the lenses of others. Don’t get me wrong, there is some pretty sweet photography, and I do love live webcasts of cool astronomical events. But I want to see the darn thing with my own well-protected eyes. This week, I might get just a little taste of that.
North America is slated to get a partial solar eclipse this Thursday, October 23. The West Coast will have the best and most complete view, while the rest of us will have to live with just a glimpse before the sun sets in the western sky. As always, I turn to NASA’s eclipse information page for the basic details. Look up your city in the US, Canada, or Mexico. Check out the interactive map, as well, to find the times near you. Here in St. Louis, just as I’m getting ready to help run another Teen Science Cafe, the partial eclipse will start low in the west at 4:47 pm and continue through sunset. I can only hope that the clouds hold off long enough for a good glimpse, but that’s not looking hopeful.
So, say you do have clear skies and a decent view of where the Sun will be this Thursday afternoon. You KNOW you’re not supposed to look at the Sun directly, right? Well, you have several options for safe viewing. Some proper solar filter glasses will do the trick if you have them from previous eclipses, the Venus Transit of 2012, or if you pre-ordered them in plenty of time when I last blogged about this event! If there’s a solar eclipse watch party near you, you might be able to pick some up, or even use a properly filtered solar telescope to get a magnified view of the partially eclipsed Sun. Of course you don’t really need fancy equipment to get a good view. A simple pinhole projector with a piece of cardboard, paper, the leaves of a tree, or even your hand will project the image of the partially eclipsed Sun on a surface for you to view safely. You can also use a small telescope or binoculars to project the image, just DON’T LOOK THROUGH THEM and be careful not to let them get too hot. Bob King at Universe Today lists a number of ways to safely view the eclipse, so check there before you head out to observe.
And finally, if you’re on the wrong side of the planet for this event or if, like me, there are many clouds in your forecast, there will be ways to watch virtually. Griffith Observatory in California, for example, will be broadcasting the eclipse for you to safely view from your screen starting at 2pm Pacific Time (World times here.)
Get out there if you can, and make this a practice run for the total solar eclipse that will slash across the US in 2017. Events are already being planned for that one!
When can you catch the next astronomical event or cool spacecraft rendezvous in the Solar System? The Lunar and Planetary Institute has a site called Look Up which tells you when to, well, look up in the sky (or online) for the next big thing.