On Monday, August 21st, the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth creating a total solar eclipse for parts of the United States. Here in the Harrisburg area, we will experience a partial solar eclipse. About 75% of the sun will be obscured by the moon. The partial solar eclipse is to begin here at 1:17 pm on August 21st. The maximum eclipse will be at 2:40 pm and end at 3:58 pm. Of course, we are at the mercy of the weather since heavy clouds would block out the event.
So what is the big deal? The last time the United States had a total solar eclipse was in 1979 and that was only visible in the northwestern corner of the country.
If you want to observe a total eclipse and not travel a great distance, you will have to wait until April 8th, 2024. Here in the Harrisburg area, about 92% of the sun will be blocked by the moon at 2:05 in the afternoon. If you travel to Erie, PA you will be able to see a total eclipse in 2024.
One very important thing to remember in observing an eclipse is to never look at the sun, eclipsed or otherwise, without wearing protective eyewear. The sun’s radiation can burn the retinas of your eyes leading to permanent damage. Sunglasses do not qualify as protective eyewear. I noticed that stores such as Walmart and Lowe’s offer special glasses for viewing an eclipse. Another option is to make a DIY card projector. It really is simple. You will need two pieces of stiff white cardboard such as two paper plates. You will also need a thumbtack, sharp pin or a needle for making a tiny hole in the center of one of the paper plates. Make sure the hole is round and smooth. Hold the paper plate with the pinhole above your shoulder with your back to the sun. The second paper plate will act as a screen for you to observe what is happening behind your back. Hold that paper plate in front of you so you can see the inverted image of the sun projected onto it through the pinhole. To make the image of the sun larger, hold the screen paper further away from the paper with the pinhole.
Since the eclipse is an unusual event you may want to take a photo using your phone. You cannot expect to take spectacular pictures due to the limitations of the smart phone lens. Also remember not to look directly at the sun. It is recommended that you take photos of the projection that you have after making a pinhole projector. You will need to get a friend to help you unless you have more than two hands!
Let’s hope for clear skies on Monday, August 21st so we can observe a partial solar eclipse which is not an everyday event!