So we here at BGN are waving the nerd flag. After 38 years, on August 21st at 1:16 pm EDT, Lincoln Beach, Oregon will be the first in the United States able to see the total eclipse of the sun. The total eclipse will last about an hour and a half with the last United States viewing being in Charlestown, South Carolina around 2:48 pm EDT. The path of total eclipse travels from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North then South Carolina.
So to get ready, I spent some time on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) eclipse website to study up a bit. The website has the things that you would expect, including a great discussion of the various terms and an app that you can download to collect information to make environmental observations that complement NASA satellite observations to help scientists studying Earth and the global environment. There is also a discussion about a better use of aluminum foil than protecting your brain waves from alien probing. Among the safety discussions and totality maps, there was a page about eclipse misconceptions. There were a few I had heard of like going blind if you look directly into the sun or an eclipse, except at the point of totality. Apparently, it is true that starting into the sun or partial eclipse can cause damage, but normally most people look away before any severe damage occurs. However, it is not recommended to try to view portions of the eclipse through a camera or telescope, unless the devices have a solar filter.
This leads us to the main reason most of you are reading this article. Will using my smartphone to view and/or photograph the partial eclipse damage my eyes or my smartphone? Well, it appears the answer is sort of yes. NASA indicates that the minute or so of the total eclipse there should be no issues, but outside of that both eyes and normal cameras should be appropriately shielded. Smartphones are interesting. It appears that the crappier your smartphone, the less likely that a photo of the partial eclipse will damage the phone. However, the photos you will be able to take will look like a blurry orange with a flickering flame. The better the camera, the more likely the partial eclipse will damage the phone, so apparently, they are recommending that you use a solar filter or your ISO-Certified sun-viewing glasses to cover the smartphone lens over the aperture (camera lens). From my research, if you don’t have one by now, have fun with the blurry orange. Be careful not to stare too long trying to sharpen the image as the display can also damage your eyes.
Probably more important than your smartphone, in order to view the eclipse it has been recommended that you only use ISO 12313-2 international safety standard compliant glasses. Even with the solar filter glasses, please be mindful to not sue them if the lenses are scratched or damaged. For the last one in the US, I remember being intrigued by instructions for making a viewer using a shoebox. Well it is a new century and now they are recommending using a cereal box, and some other great options include a pinhole projector. I am fortunate that I have a nerd friend with a 3-D printer, as NASA has downloadable templates to 3-D print state shaped pinhole projector. If you’re asking what a pinhole projector is, it is a card or firm paper with a small hole around 5 millimeters in diameter. With your back to the eclipse, you will hold the card around 3 feet from the ground. As the eclipse progresses you should be able to see the disappearing sun projected onto the ground in front of you.
A curious misconception was related to a total eclipse being a sign of a major events in people’s lives or other celestial events. Just to set the record straight, eclipses do not foretell bad events, or cause changes in human behavior (although we know the truth about the moon and werewolves), the rest is pure myth. So finish that box of cereal, take the aluminum foil off your head (ignore the voices, that’s the television), get some complaint eclipse glasses or make yourself a viewer, and join the rest of us nerds outside on Monday around noon to witness the eclipse.
E.Angel is an engineer and holds a BS in electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. She’s a real nerd who loves all things Star Wars and Star Trek, and is an avid gamer. E.Angel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on either game platform as Bunnehs Sister.
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