Preparing for the solar eclipse on Aug. 21
TUPPER LAKE – As thousands of Americans prepare to watch the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, questions about it orbit many people’s minds. The directors of the Adirondack Public Observatory have answers about one of the few daytime astrological events.
While some prepare to make the trek somewhere in the U.S. where the eclipse will be total, others are staying behind to hold a free viewing party at the observatory near Little Wolf Beach in Tupper Lake.
This will be the first total eclipse visible from the United States mainland since 1979. With national news reports on the upcoming event, thousands of travelers making their way to the path of totality for optimal viewing and even several doomsday predictions, this eclipse has captivated much of the country.
“It’s not uncommon for there to be eclipses; they happen fairly regularly,” APO Vice President Seth McGowan said, “but a full eclipse is pretty spectacular looking, and the fact that it is just carving its way across the United States is not common at all.”
McGowan pointed out that the mere possibility of an eclipse is amazing in its own right. The moon and sun are vastly different in size, but the distance between them is just enough to make them look roughly the same size from Earth. While the scientific aspects of an eclipse are fascinating, McGowan also says one is not required to be interested in any of that to appreciate the astrological anomaly.
“With a solar eclipse, you don’t really need to necessarily know anything about astronomy to be captivated by it,” McGowan said.
The path of totality is the 70-mile-wide band running through the heart of the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina. Seen from there, the moon will fully eclipse the sun, letting onlookers view the sun’s corona, its outer atmosphere, rarely seen as sunlight overwhelms the lighter gaseous atmosphere.
Here in the Adirondacks, the eclipse will be around 62 percent, creating a crescent sun.
When the sun is in full eclipse in the path of totality, that is the only time viewing without protective glasses is safe. Solar glasses must be worn at all other times to prevent damage to the retina. Even in an eclipse, the sun’s rays overload the retina and can burn the eye leaving long-lasting damage.
“I have seen instances where the patient has eventually shown up with crescents burned into the back of the eye, and you can almost tell exactly when they looked,” Ralph Chou, professor emeritus at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, told space.com.
Looking through a telescope, binoculars or camera lens is not safe, either, and NASA warns, “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”
Solar glasses are safe, cheap and abundant. McGowan says to not waste money on expensive glasses from online stores which may not be actually authorized for solar viewing. The safe ones to use cost just a few dollars and can be found by the hundreds in boxes at the observatory during its regular hours, the Wild Center museum in Tupper Lake and at the observatory’s viewing party.
Though the North Country does not get the fun of seeing the solar corona, there are still fascinating observations to be made with a partial eclipse. According to Levy, all you need is a piece of paper with a hole in it. As the moon covers the surface of the sun hold the paper in front of a flat surface and the light coming through the hole will turn from a circle to a crescent, mimicking the sun.
The experience of seeing even a partial eclipse is described as being surreal and eerie. The sky will darken in an unnatural way, the temperature can drop several degrees, and birds may fly to roost, thinking night is coming.
APO president Carol Levy has been around the world to see many solar eclipses on Indonesian mountains and in Zambian cow fields. She described how the excitement of seeing a total solar eclipse leaves professional scientists awe-struck, forgetting to take photos and bumbling with their equipment.
“If you are religious, it’s a religious experience. If you’re not, it’s a scientific experience,” Levy said.
In ancient China, people believed a dragon was eating the sun, so they would bang pots and pans to scare it away.
The eclipse will start at around 1:25 p.m. and last until around 3:55. The Adirondack Public Observatory’s viewing event will last from 12:30 p.m. to 4.
Along with several solar telescopes, solar astronomers Tim Connolly Sr. and Tim Connolly Jr. will give play-by-play coverage of the celestial events. Observatory directors will also share more of the science and mythology behind eclipses throughout history.
The next total solar eclipse visible in the United States will be April 8, 2024, and Tupper Lake will be nearly dead center in the path of totality.