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Birmingham won’t have a total eclipse on August 21st, but we’ll be pretty close, with over 90% of the sun blocked. This makes preparing to watch the eclipse important! So how do you prepare?
Start by understanding what a partial eclipse means. Total eclipses can be viewed safely with the naked eye, binoculars, and even telescopes. However, partial eclipses leave part of the giant nuclear fireball that is our sun visible. Just as looking at the whole sun with binoculars can cause permanent damage to your eyes, so can looking at a partial eclipse.
When you look at a solar eclipse, there’s a halo surrounding the moon. That’s called the corona, and it’s a giant field of plasma – similar to lightning or neon.
What does this mean for preparation?
“Eclipse viewing glasses” are just welding goggles with a different shape. If you already have arc welding equipment, you’re set! Just wear your mask or goggles when looking at the sun. NASA recommends #14 welder’s glass for comfort. Personally, I’d ensure that the color of the glass was what I wanted to see – in this case, not green!
If staring up in the sky isn’t your thing, try lying down or building your own SunSpotter. Diagrams for the SunSpotter are available through Google Patents, and the $500 wooden triangle with mirrors and lenses inside just costs too much to justify purchasing one for a single eclipse. It seems like a great DIY project! Finally, if you have binoculars handy, you can always make a quick-and-dirty projection tool to look at the sun like this.
If you can’t get off work (understandable), there are still options, provided you have an internet connection. GeekWire lays them out here.
Where to go
I can’t say where the best view of the sun will be. Your best spot will depend on how long you want to view the eclipse and where you’ll travel from (and to). Just make sure you have a clear view of the sun. The moon will eclipse the sun from Noon to about 3PM, but the money shot will occur at exactly 1:31PM.
Generally, you shouldn’t take pictures. Just don’t even try unless you have a camera with interchangeable lenses. In order to take an enjoyable photo of the sun, you’ll want a strong neutral-density filter and a powerful (not to mention heavy) zoom lens. Nikon provides a guide to taking photos of an eclipse through all stages, including the partial phases which can damage camera sensors, as does Astronomy Technology Today. SLRLounge also gives tips for all solar photography, including eclipses.
I actually don’t think taking pictures will be the best use of most people’s time. Just think back to the last time you looked through those photos of fireworks, or a picture you tried to take of the moon!
The biggest takeaway is to be careful – watching a solar eclipse will be a lot of fun, but only if you don’t break your phone’s camera (or your eyes) in the process!