'The Great American Eclipse': What You Should Know
Experts on how to protect your eyes, calm your fears and enjoy the day
On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, an eclipse of the sun will take place. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is calling the event, "The Great American Eclipse."
It's a pretty exciting day, but we've gotten questions about the eclipse and maybe you've been asked questions by your own kids about the big event coming up.
So to get answers, we went to the experts. We talked to Doug Roberts, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Michael Hunt, M.D., a pediatric eye specialist and research and education director of Ophthalmology at Cook Children's and Joy Crabtree, a licensed psychologist and clinic manager for Southlake and Northeast Hospital.
We start with some general questions for Doug Roberts:
1. What is an eclipse?
Doug Roberts: In astronomy, an eclipse is when one body gets in front of another.
2. What makes a solar eclipse so special and how rare is it?
Roberts: It is rare to see a total solar eclipse because the area on the earth where it can be viewed is so small and it lasts only a few minutes. The eclipses themselves happen fairly often, but most of the time they are only visible from the ocean and go unnoticed.
3. Can you see it in Texas?
Roberts: You can see a partial eclipse anywhere in Texas. If you live in the northern part of Texas, the eclipse will be more complete (more of the Sun's disk is covered by the Moon) than if viewed in south Texas. If you want to see totality you have to travel north to Nebraska, or Missouri.
4. What time will you see the eclipse?
Roberts: The maximum partial eclipse will be about 75 percent in north Texas. If you are on the line of totality, which extends from Oregon to South Carolina, you will see the Moon completely cover the Sun. There are many good charts, such as this one: http://www.eclipse2017.org/2017/maps.htm
5. How can you see it safely?
Roberts: In Texas you can view the partial eclipse directly ONLY if you use approved eclipse glasses. They are available online and also at our Museum's gift store. You can also safely project the eclipse using a piece of paper with a hole punched in it. This is a nice site that describes this: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/how-make-pinhole-projector-view-solar-eclipse. You can also watch live streams of the eclipse on your computer as it is going on: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream.
For more information about the impact a solar eclipse has on the sun, we talked to Dr. Hunt.
1. What will looking at the eclipse do to your eyes?
If even part of the sun is visible during an eclipse (partial eclipse, waxing or waning during total eclipse, or no eclipse at all) the intensity of the light and infrared rays can damage the light receptor cells (rods and cones) actually causing a burn in the retina. Depending on the time and intensity of exposure the damage may be temporary or permanent. So one should never try to view an eclipse (even a total one) directly as even if 1 percent of the sun’s rays are visible around the moon blocking the light, a retinal burn can occur.
2. Is it safe to use the glasses handed out to look at the eclipse?
The safest filters are Shade #14 welder’s glass that can be bought at a welding supply store or aluminized mylar on glasses that are specifically made for eclipses. They filter out almost all of the damaging light rays. Unsafe filters are color film, sunglasses, and smoked glass.
3. What is the safest way to view the eclipse?
The safest is to use a pinhole in a paper or board with a screen at least 1 meter behind it. An image of the sun will be projected onto the screen and you can see the eclipse happen. Since this is indirect, you never look directly at the sun. Alternatively, you can get the welder’s glass or specific eclipse glasses mentioned above.
4. Anything else parents should know?
A total eclipse is a rare, amazing event that can be great to enjoy if you take the right precautions.
6. Any tips on how parents can make the event special?
Roberts: Take a colander outside during the eclipse, maybe 1 p.m. or so, when it is near its peak. Hold the colander in such a way that the sunlight passes through the holes and is projected on some smooth surface. You should see a crescent of the Sun projected from all the holes.
7. Anything else kids should know?
Roberts If you can wait seven more years, the path of totality will go right through North Texas on April 8, 2024.
To Learn More:
Learn more about the "Great American Eclipse" by visiting the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History's site. View a schedule of events at the museum and explore solar eclipses on the site.
While an eclipse is a scientific wonder, it may also be scary for some kids. Here are some tips from Joy Crabtree to help your children enjoy the event:
"When talking to your kids about the eclipse, I think it’s important to prepare them and let them know what to expect in order to prevent them from being frightened or anxious. Explain that the sun, moon, and earth will line up, and the sky will go dark for a few minutes and it will feel a lot cooler outside. Prepare them by letting them know it will not last very long, and then it will soon be daylight again, and the temperature will return back to normal as well fairly quickly. If they know what is going to happen, and approximately when it will happen, they will not be startled by it, and are less likely to be scared. Additionally, when you give them a name for it, “the eclipse,” it provides them some sense of mastery over it as well, as though, “oh yeah, it’s the eclipse, I knew that was going to happen!”
Present it as a positive, unique event that happens only every hundred years or so and as something special that they get to experience in their lifetime.