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Solar eclipse on August 21


By Judy Reed

People across the nation are getting ready to witness a rare total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. According to the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, this happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, and blocks our view of all or part of the sun. This is a rarer event to observe compared to a lunar eclipse, which is when the earth’s shadow falls on a full moon.

Only a narrow path across the United States from Oregon to southern Illinois to South Carolina will witness a total eclipse. West Michigan is not in the path of totality, so will only see a partial eclipse. The time will be about 2:10-2:30, depending on where you are in Michigan. As much as 70 to 85 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon. But just because it will only be a partial eclipse here doesn’t mean it’s safe to look at without protective eyewear—and sunglasses are not safe.

“Even though a big chunk of the sun will be covered in West Michigan during the eclipse, there will still be enough sunlight to cause major eye problems if you risk anything more than a glimpse unprotected. Sunglasses are not safe,” said WOODTV-8 meteorologist Ellen Bacca. Eye problems may not be apparent immediately after staring at the sun. Experts say blindness or vision problems may not appear for hours or even a day after the damage has been done.”

Shannon Murphy, the instructional support and outreach coordinator for the U-M Department of Astronomy, hopes people will not write off this celestial event, even if we don’t get to see it in its totality.

“Although the eclipse is only partial here in Michigan, it’s still totally worth watching,” she said. “Just don’t look at the sun directly. There are plenty of ways to safely watch it. If you’re using eclipse glasses or solar filters to look at the sun, make sure the only thing you can see through it is the sun. If you can see other things, it’s not good enough. If you’re using projection, like a pinhole projector, remember you’re supposed to look at the image of the sun, not through the pinhole.”

The NWS said that to prevent serious eye damage, you should only look directly at the sun through solar filters that are ISO 12312-2 compliant. There have been reports of some fake and unsafe eclipse glasses being sold, so the American Astronomical Society has created a list of reputable vendors at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters. You can use indirect methods of viewing the eclipse, such as a pinhole projector. Crescent patterns in the shadows of trees will also be apparent if there are no clouds. More information can be found at eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.

And if you are thinking about recording the event with your phone, you might want to reconsider that. Bacca said that quick pictures of the sun during the eclipse should be fine with your phone, but extended use during the solar eclipse could permanently damage it.

The NWS said the next total solar eclipse in Michigan will be April 8, 2024, when a small sliver of southeast Michigan will see a total eclipse, though the duration of totality will last longer in Ohio (a 75 to 99 percent partial eclipse will be seen from the rest of Michigan on this day). Southwest Michigan will see a total solar eclipse on September 14, 2099. There will be annular (ring of fire) eclipses over northern Michigan in 2048 and 2057.

To learn more about the eclipse, visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.

There a couple of area events going on that day if you’d like to join others for a solar eclipse party.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum will be holding a special Eclipse Part from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that will include hands-on activities, safe eclipse viewing and more. Hands on activities for the day will include making solar system bracelets; decorating personal eclipse shades; designing and building space craft; making eclipse projectors; and more. The party will also feature a meal deal, multiple shows on the half hour of “Eclipses and Phases of the Moon” in the Chaffee Planetarium ($4 per person), and a live stream of the total eclipse will be shown in the Meijer Theater. Visitors can also be part of a WZZM broadcast from 12 to 1 p.m. Activities as part of the Eclipse Party will be included with general admission to the Museum, and FREE to Museum members. Tickets may be reserved in advance.

A limited number of eclipse glasses will be available at the Eclipse Party, on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 10 a.m. Member adults and member children are free; Kent County adults are $5; Kent County children are free; and all other adults are $8, and $3 for children. For more info and to order tickets go to www.grpm.org/events/eclipse-party/.

You can also join Montcalm Community College’s Kenneth J. Lehman Nature Trails committee members for a solar eclipse viewing from 2 to 2:45 p.m. near the greenhouse on the college’s Sidney campus. When viewing from Montcalm County, the partial eclipse will begin around 1 p.m., peak around 2:25 p.m. and end around 3:45 p.m. At the eclipse’s peak, the sun will be about 80 percent covered. Wear eclipse glasses, not sunglasses. Bring your own blankets or chairs.

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