So, so Solar

Update: Did you see it? I used two paper plates, one with a pin hole, to see a teensy tiny sun with a bite out of it. About 1 mm across. So here’s a photo that shows just about how I saw it around 7:45 pm in southwest Montana. There are some awesome photos on the net, check ’em out.

Tomorrow there is a solar eclipse, visible for many of us in the US, especially in the west. In Montana we’re only getting a 71% eclipse according to the local astronomers. (Did you know there are NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab solar system ambassadors in your state? Me neither.) At any rate the message is clear: don’t look at the sun to see the eclipse.

Lunar eclipse, Dec. 2010

Remember the recent lunar eclipse? That was okay, just the moon. But this is a big hot star that can fry your retina.

You knew that. Even though they’re making a big deal out of this solar eclipse, that it won’t come this way again for eighteen years, you and I have seen plenty. Maybe partials, right, but we’ve seen ’em. The last one I saw with my kids was memorable. We were on a train between Edinburgh, Scotland, and London. The year, I believe, was 1999, the last year my older son went on a family trip like that with us. He was in college by then and had *stuff going on.* But the younger one was 16 and still game. We had already seen the beginning of the Edinburgh Festival, scores of kilts and bagpipes and even a blue-painted warrior like Mel Gibson, examined Scotland’s crown jewels and its exotic weapons, froze our asses off in the top of a double decker tour bus, and seen Gumboots at the Fringe Festival. Now we were retiring back to London to finish out our trip. But this travel day was blessed with a solar eclipse and the 16-year-old found himself two sheets of paper or cardboard or something, poked a pinhole in the front one and watched the eclipse while shooting along the tracks to the Big Smoke.

We had done this before, in the neighborhood, when he was in elementary school. I think I made a box that time for all the kids to  use. It’s easy enough. The two sides of the box make the two planes, put a pin hole in the front one and point it at the sun. The shadow on the back wall should have a bite out of it. That’s the moon covering the sun. My dad taught me to do that when I was a kid. His dad probably taught him. It’s not rocket science but it’s pretty cool. Here’s a video on how to build a pin hole viewer.

If you miss this solar eclipse, well, it’s not the end of the world. (You knew I was going to say that.) There will be another one, another pin hole, another chance to sear your eyeballs. Just keep the earth, your little patch, your air and water, clean and growing and unpolluted, and we’ll all have a chance to ride this rock around the sun for awhile yet.

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