Friday, December 15, 2000
Christmas Day partial solar eclipse must be viewed safely
If Christmas day is sunny and you need a break from the indoor excitement try checking out the sun around noontime, as it will be partially eclipsed by the moon. From our location in New England the moon will make its first contact with the sun at about 11:15 a.m., reach maximum coverage (about 50 percent) at about 12:52 p.m., and finally depart the sun completely at about 2:24 p.m.
The most important question to ask is "how can we safely view this lunar sihouette?" The first rule to follow is never look at a partial solar eclipse with your naked eye or with any optical aids unless they are specifically designed for that purpose.
I suggest that a safe and easy way to view the eclipse is to project the sun through a pair of binoculars onto a clean white surface like a pizza box cover. This becomes your projection screen (see photo). Stand with your back to the sun, four to six feet from the propped up box. Hold the binoculars up near your shoulder so the sunlight enters the objective lens and exits the eyepiece. Look at the shadow of the binoculars on the pizza box and then by tilting the binoculars you should be able to get the sun's image to fall on the box. When the proper position of the binoculars is found you can even get the sun's image to fall in the shadow of your head. Focus the eyepiece to get a sharp image and you may even see some sunspots.
This projection method is safe for you and safe for anyone else you can drag out of the house on a cold and festive day. For quick, occasional looks and with the sun so low this time of year it is also safe for your binoculars. I have tried this out. It works well, but I advise adult supervision in families with children. I also do not recommend mounting the binoculars on a camera tripod or other device, as this surely will invite a curious eye to have a dangerous look directly at the sun through the eyepiece.
At mid-eclipse the sun will be about 50 percent covered, enough to make the outdoor scene look decidedly dimmer than usual. But if you stay indoors the event will likely pass unnoticed.
For more information on the eclipse check out: www.skypub.org.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito