Tips for the Total Solar Eclipse (August 21, 2017)

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The Sun through eclipse glasses.

I am psyched about the eclipse. I’m traveling to see it properly, because in Indianapolis, the Sun will only be 91% eclipsed by the Moon. That’s as good as I’ve ever seen it before (in 1986 and 1994), but this time I want to see the stars come out in the daytime, and I want to see the corona.

In 1986, I was really unsafe and looked at the eclipse through a stack of exposed slides. I have no idea if it blocked enough light to be safe, and even then I only took quick peeks because I wasn’t sure. But I did see it, and it was fun when many of the other kids in my high school had no idea why it was getting dark outside without a cloud in the sky.

Don’t be stupid, do not look directly at the Sun. Ever burn things with a magnifying glass as a kid? The lens in your eyeball will do that to your retina and you will be blinded.

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Animation of the 1994 Eclipse, Kirkwood Observatory

In 1994, I was working for the Indiana University Astronomy Department, and I’d set up their first webserver. I found out that we had a solar telescope at Kirkwood Observatory, and that a Sparc 5 workstation (made by Sun) had a video capture card. I set things up so that an image would be taken every minute and that it would be copied over the the webserver every 5 minutes. The thought was that we had no idea how much load it would put on the machine if it was viewable more often. And as it turns out, we had over 2000 unique visitors in 4 hours, and I was especially proud of the visits from NASA and from other countries. I was also happy to have been emailed by a professor elsewhere who’d shown the eclipse to his class of a hundred or so thanks to my web-broadcast.

http://www.homebrew.net/solar/

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Mid Eclipse May 10, 1994 12:03 EST (17:03 UT)

To this day, I count that as the event that really launched my career with the web and as a sysadmin.

So here’s what I learned on that day in 1994. Of course, you can easily buy eclipse glasses to view the event, but here are some safe, low tech ways as well:

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Pinhole cameras made of 1″ square mirrors (on poles with silly putty) were set up around the observatory, the reflection of the sun projected a nice image the eclipse on posterboard.

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The leaves acted as natural pinhole cameras, projecting hundreds of crescents on the ground as the eclipse progressed.

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If you have nothing else, form your hands into a waffle pattern to make pinhole cameras to project on the ground.

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About ecgarrison

Author. Brewer. Gamer. Geek. Trans.
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2 Responses to Tips for the Total Solar Eclipse (August 21, 2017)

  1. I remember the 1994 eclipse because I didn’t know it was going to happen before hand. I had gone to bed at 3am, slept till noon or 1. When I went outside to visit my BFF,I immediately noticed something was off. It wasn’t bright enough outside even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was fully sunny. I actually looked up at the sun to see what was wrong, but immediately regretted it and looked away as it hurt, of course. No damage, but it was still stupid. This is what happens when you let your emotions make decisions. I wondered what the heck I was thinking and decided I just wasn’t fully awake. I thought maybe it was just me until I noticed the crescent shadows the tree leaves made on the ground. It was an eerie and odd feeling to experience this first thing in the “morning” (well my morning anyhow) when I didn’t know what was going on. Of course my BFF wasn’t as out of the loop as me, and she was all excited about the eclipse and I immediately felt better and shared the excitement, knowing what was going on.
    After that experience, I understand why primitive peoples wouldn’t have just assumed an eclipse was nature doing its thing, but a sign from the gods. I guess my experience is just more proof that the unknown is a bit scary, even when it is a cool thing that is happening.

  2. Jay says:

    For a 1972 (maybe ’71) eclipse, my parents got us out of school and we drove to NC to be in the totality. Pretty cool experience. Well, except I had to do a report about it for Mrs. Ryan’s class… 🙂

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