Across the United States, people are getting ready for an uncommon event–a total solar eclipse. On Monday, Aug. 21, the moon will pass between the Sun and the Earth, which will be visible throughout the country. In the Tampa Bay area, we will see a partial eclipse with about 80 percent of the sun covered, but people within a 70-mile-wide swath arcing between Oregon and South Carolina will experience a total eclipse of slightly more than two minutes. The last time the United States experienced a total solar eclipse was in 1979 and the next won’t be until 2024.
What Is a Solar Eclipse?
Here are a few fast facts about the phenomenon.
- A solar eclipse is what happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, covering the sun and casting a shadow on Earth.
- Eclipses only happen once in a while because the moon orbits around Earth on a slight tilt. Sometimes it passes by the sun at too high of an angle, other times it is too low.
- A total solar eclipse happens when Earth, the moon and the sun all line up exactly.
- A partial solar eclipse happens when the moon is not exactly aligned with the sun and Earth, but is very close.
“While viewing a solar eclipse is a worthwhile experience, staring directly at the sun without proper eye protection can cause permanent damage to the retina,” cautions Rachel Dawkins, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “Children and teenagers are particularly at risk because the lenses of their eyes are still maturing.”
Before your family takes part in viewing the solar eclipse, here are important safety tips that you need to know.
During the eclipse:
- Watch a live stream. The safest way to view the sun is through pictures and video. For four hours surrounding the eclipse, NASA will be livestreaming the event on the web and on NASA TV starting at noon. Cameras on spacecraft, NASA aircraft, high-altitude balloons and the International Space Station will provide coverage of the eclipse.
- Use special eclipse-viewing glasses. Regular sunglasses, even those with very dark and/or polarized lenses are not enough eye protection for viewing a solar eclipse. You need special eyewear to safely view the sun. Hand-held solar viewers and eclipse glasses can be purchased online, but make sure they meet the necessary safety standards. According to NASA, only a few companies make products that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard. Scratched, wrinkled or damaged solar filters, or those older than three years, are not safe for eclipse viewing. Always be sure to read the included safety instructions and supervise children.
- Use a pinhole projector. Projection techniques are popular and safe ways to view an eclipse. Projection telescopes are commercially available, however building a pinhole projector is a relatively inexpensive project kids can do. Through the pinhole, an image of the sun is projected onto a screen allowing you to safely view the eclipse. Remember, always use projection tools with your back to the sun. You should never look directly at the sun.
- DO NOT use a telescope, binoculars or camera (even a cell phone camera) without the proper filter fitted on the lens. These devices will not protect your eyes and should not be used with eclipse glasses. In fact, the lenses will amplify the light and heat from the sun and cause severe damage to your eyes and/or the eclipse glasses.
- DO NOT look continuously at the sun during the eclipse. Even if you have the correct eclipse-viewing device, you should still take frequent breaks from looking at the sun. The sun puts out an incredible amount of infrared heat and light. Just like you may want to find shade on a sunny day, your eyes need breaks from the heat too.
- DO NOT look at the sun with regular sunglasses, homemade “filters” or no protection at all. Items like normal sunglasses, medical x-ray films, smoked glass and polarized filters don’t offer enough protection for the sun’s rays. You should only use approved items.
In the Tampa Bay area the eclipse will start around 1:15 p.m. and reach its max at about 2:49 p.m. The eclipse will end around 4:15 p.m.