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There goes the sun; don't look at it

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Column by Jim Clark

Go back in time about 500 years or so and pretend you’re one of Marion County’s native inhabitants.

You get up one morning, and your biggest worry is about getting some food. You don’t worry about traffic or pollution or North Korean bombs.

But suddenly your day changes. It’s getting dark very early, and you stare up at the sky and there is a black circle moving across the sun. You watch mesmerized as the son disappears and you think that this is some sort of omen from the gods.

But then you see the object disappear, and everything is back to normal, except for one thing. Your eyes hurt, and you realize that you can’t see as well as you used to.

On Aug. 21, you have a chance to revisit that phenomenon. You also have a chance to permanently damage your eyes.

The occasion is an eclipse of the sun, when the moon passes between that bright celestial body and the earth.

I know it takes will power, but don’t look at it.

In this part of North America, it won’t be a total eclipse. That makes no difference when it comes to looking at it.

Here’s a safety news release from NASA, the U.S. space agency:

“An eclipse is a rare and striking phenomenon you won’t want to miss, but you must carefully follow safety procedures. Don’t let the requisite warnings scare you away from witnessing this singular spectacle! You can experience the eclipse safely, but it is vital that you protect your eyes at all times with the proper solar filters. No matter what recommended technique you use, do not stare continuously at the sun. Take breaks and give your eyes a rest! Do not use sunglasses: they don’t offer your eyes sufficient protection.”

Viewing with Protection -- Experts suggests that one widely available filter for safe solar viewing is number 14 welder’s glass. It is imperative that the welding hood houses a #14 or darker filter. Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number. Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe. Inexpensive eclipse glasses have special safety filters that appear similar to sunglasses, but these do permit safe viewing.

“Telescopes with Solar Filters – Eclipses are best viewed directly when magnified, which means a telescope with a solar filter or solar telescopes. These will give you a magnified view that will clearly show the progress of an eclipse. Never look through a telescope without a solar filter on the large end of the scope. And never use small solar filters that attach to the eyepiece (as found in some older, cheaper telescopes.)

“Pinhole projectors (link is external) -- Pinhole projectors and other projection techniques are a safe, indirect viewing technique for observing an image of the sun. These provide a popular way for viewing solar eclipses.

“Related projection methods -- One viewing technique is to project an image of the sun onto a white surface with a projecting telescope. This is explained further here: http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/05/stars2.html (link is external).

The Exploratorium demonstrates how to view a planet in transit or an eclipse safely by projecting the image with binoculars: http://www.exploratorium.edu/transit/how.html (link is external). There are commercially available projection telescopes as well.

“Besides eye protection during solar eclipse viewing, one needs to pay attention to their personal needs and surrounding.

That’s the end of what NASA has to say. For me, the rule is simple ... don’t look.

On the Internet, you can go to NASA.gov and follow the links. If you’re fortunate enough to have a cable TV system that has the NASA channel, you can probably watch it there.

If you don’t, check out the many news channels. It’s the same sun, no matter which station.

But don’t look directly at the sun.. It’s not worth it.

If you sleep through it, don’t worry. There will be another one in April 8, 2024.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen and the West Marion Messenger.