‘The Super Bowl of Astronomy’ : Expert tips for safely enjoying the solar eclipse, Aug. 21

Solar eclipse. Photo: Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be
Solar eclipse. Photo: Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be
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Sun worshipers in New Jersey will enjoy a partial glimpse of Monday’s solar eclipse.

MorristownGreen.com reached out to a pair of experts, Andrew Gerrard, director of NJIT’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research, and Christopher Fenwick, astronomer at the County College of Morris Longo Planetarium, for some advice on how to get the most out of what Longo calls the “Super Bowl of Astronomy.”

Read on for safe viewing tips from Dr. Lucy Chen of Morristown Medical Center, and links to sites for viewing the total eclipse online.

 

NEARBY VIEWING PARTIES:

  • The Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morris Township, 1 pm to 4 pm. Free. NASA’s feed will be shown on a big screen. Bring your own safety glasses for outdoors. Call 973-971-3706.

  • The Library of the Chathams, 214 Main St., Chatham, noon to 4 pm. Free. NASA livestream. Bring your own safety glasses for outdoors. Call 973-635-0603

  • The Parsippany-Troy Hills Library, 449 Halsey Road., Parsippany, noon to 4 pm; Lake Hiawatha branch, 68 Nokomis Ave., from 12:30 pm to 4 pm. Free. NASA livestream. Bring your own safety glasses for outdoors. Call 973-887-5150.

MorristownGreen.com: What, exactly, is a solar eclipse?

Andrew Gerrard: This event on August 21, 2017, is a solar eclipse (as opposed to a lunar eclipse), in which the moon passes in front of the sun. Because the moon and the sun on different orbital planes, they are very rare, and because they are also about the same angular diameter, the event is quiet beautiful to observe.

MG: How much of the eclipse will we see in New Jersey?

AG: About 75 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon in New Jersey.  That is, the “path of totality,” where the entire sun is covered, is further south in the Carolinas.  Here in New Jersey, we will not see 100 percent totality.

MG:  What will that be like?

AG: ASSUMING clear skies in New Jersey in mid-August, it should be wonderful!  The event will start around 1:30 PM EDT, and go until about 4 PM.  During that time, the “sky will get dark” and it will be quite noticeable.

Chris Fenwick: The Eclipse Megamovie Project will gather images of the 2017 total solar eclipse from over 1,000 volunteer photographers and amateur astronomers (citizen scientists), as well as many more members of the general public. We’ll then stitch these media assets together to create an expanded and continuous view of the total eclipse as it crosses the United States.

MG:  At what time will the effect be most dramatic, and for how long?

AG: Seventy-five percent coverage will be at around 2:45, and should be “most dramatic” for 30 minutes or so.

MG: What sort of eye protection is required to view a partial eclipse?

AG: PLEASE use special solar/eclipse viewing goggles.  Never look at the sun without protection.

CF: You really want to find a verified solar viewing device…Sunglasses are unsafe, especially where we are, with the moon not fully blocking the sun.

 

MG: Will a pinhole shadow box still work?  Can you explain how to make and use one?

AG: Sure!  Basically, cut a very small hole in a sturdy card stock, face the sheet towards the sun, and let the light that passes through the hole fall on to another sheet behind it. This will create a “pinhole camera,” and you can then observed the image/sun/eclipse very safely.  But… looking at the sun with eclipse glasses is, IMO, even better.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: CCM student Ernie Phillips and Longo Planetarium Astronomer Chris Fenwick in 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, May 9, 2014
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: CCM student Ernie Phillips and Longo Planetarium Astronomer Chris Fenwick in 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

CF: I have never had much luck with it.  You have to line it up pretty well, and you still only get a very small, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch projection of the sun/eclipse. All you need is two pieces of rigid paper. White paper plates usually work.  Poke a tiny — less than a millimeter — hole in the middle of one.  Position it so sunlight is coming through the hole.  Then hold the other plate parallel, so the sun projects onto that plate.  You will have to move them closer, or farther, until it is in focus.

MG: When was New Jersey’s last total solar eclipse?

CF: The last one around here was before my time… looks like the last total we could see here was in 1917.

MG: When is our next solar eclipse?

AG: So after this one, we will be able to see the ones in 2023 and 2024.

MG: How can people here experience this month’s eclipse online?

AG: The best way, I think, for people to view the eclipse would be at an “eclipse party.” Many of the local amateur astronomy clubs will host such events.

CF: Go to the pros!  NASA will have bunch of streams on their site.  You will be able to see it from prime locations, and stream some views from aircraft.

MG: How do you plan to view the eclipse?

AG: I will be at the event at the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey (UACNJ) event.

CF: I will actually be at a different event indoors, so I will probably not see it live.  I will probably sneak some streaming in.

MG: Why are so many scientists going gaga over this eclipse?

AG:  There are a few reasons.  

Andrew Gerrard, director of NJIT's Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research.
Andrew Gerrard, director of NJIT’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research.

1). Solar eclipses are a way to suddenly “turn off the sun.”  This allows many scientists to measure the impact of such sudden loss of energy and test our understanding of the atmosphere and near-space environment.  For example, radio communication will be temporarily impacted when the sun’s ionizing radiation is blocked by the moon, and this will be tested/measured by the HamSci community.

2). With the surface of the sun blocked, we will be able to clearly see the solar atmosphere on the limb of the eclipse.  This natural blocking gives scientists the ability to study the solar corona, in particular.  

3). Solar eclipses are relatively rare…. We like to see how “nature” responds to such an event.  For example, how do animals behave when the sun is “turned off?”  Will roosters crow after the event, thinking it’s a new morning

CF: I think it is just because it is unusual, and now the general populace is excited about something in science.  That seems to be pretty rare.  I guess this is kind of the Super Bowl of Astronomy. There are so many exciting things going on in space right now, and hopefully this will be a launch point for people to start noticing.

MG: How will NJIT’s solar observatory be involved?  Are there any burning questions that scientists hope to solve by observing this event? 

AG: We have many observatories [from Big Bear in California to the South Pole]

Big Bear Solar Observatory and the Owens Valley Solar Array [both in California] are planning to take regular observations.  There isn’t a special mode that either have to go into, as I understand it.

The Jeffer Observatory is located at the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey site [Jenny Jump State Forest, in Hope, NJ], and we will be there.  However, much of that instrumentation, like the lidar, all-sky camera, and photometers, is for dark, dark night-time only.  Like, for studying the aurora.

Our observatories in Peru and across the Antarctic will be operating as usual, but the eclipse isn’t viewable from these locations.  Instead, we will be taking data on the RESPONSE of the atmosphere to the eclipse in the Northern Hemisphere.

MG: What kind of research is being conducted nowadays by the observatory at Big Bear? 

NJIT-CSTR runs and operates BBSO exclusively.  BBSO is the world’s largest solar telescope in the world, and is collecting cutting edge, high resolution images of the suns surface and lower chromosphere.  Most of the recent work has been on the dynamics of active regions on the sun.

AG: The BBSO primary mirror upgrade, increased to 1.6-meter diameter, is done.  This past July 17 we had a renaming ceremony to honor Phil Goode [former director and a leader in solar research].

MG: What’s coming up at the Long Planetarium?

CF: Our event schedule is available here.

 

Path of Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse. Source: NASA
Path of Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse. Source: NASA

SAFE VIEWING ADVICE FROM DR. LUCY CHEN, Pediatric Ophthalmologist, Morristown Medical Center:

  • Eye wear protection is crucial while viewing the solar eclipse directly.
  • Make sure filtered eye wear is ISO-certified. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Astrological Society recommend specific filters that are ISO certified.
  • If there are scratches on lenses, do not use.
  • Do not use unfiltered binoculars cameras or telescopes as eye can still be damaged with such instruments.
  • Make sure your sun-viewing glasses are ISO-approved! Photo via Wikipedia.
    Make sure your sun-viewing glasses are ISO-approved! Photo via Wikipedia.

    Make sure protective eyewear is put on before looking at sun and do not remove until you are not looking at the eclipse. 

  • Children and younger people are most at risk of retinal damage as their lenses tend to be the clearest and cannot disperse the harmful rays.
  • The longer the eye views a partial eclipse, the greater the chance of retinal burns.
  • The solar eclipse can cause burns to the many layers of eye tissues including the cornea, lens, and retina, although the damage to the retina that is most visually consequential.  The retina is the delicate layer of nerve tissue that captures light and images and transmits images to the brain.
  • Damage from viewing the solar eclipse is caused by infrared and UV radiation and excessive blue light. There is no risk to the eye when the eclipse is complete but any visible crescent of the sun behind the moon can cause solar damage to the eye that can result in permanent loss of vision, even blindness.

SOLAR ECLIPSE RESOURCES:

More safe viewing tips

Where to buy safety viewing glasses (good luck!)

NASA live stream of the eclipse

Eclipse simulator (enter zip code)

Build a pinhole camera

Library viewing parties

List of solar eclipses

More eclipse resources, United Astronomy Clubs of NJ

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