By Carol Tannenhauser
You won’t find a lot of astronomers at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, at the American Museum of Natural History, on August 21st – this coming Monday – when a total eclipse of the sun will cross the entire continental United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Most will have left town for the “path of totality,” a swath of land about 70 miles wide, where the eclipse will be total – and the experience, one called, “transformational.”
But what about those of us back in New York City, where the eclipse will be partial?
“I want to tell all of you – a partial is nothing to turn your nose at!” said resident astrophysicist Jackie Faherty, who is heading for Wyoming. “A lot of people have been pooh-poohing partials. While it’s true you don’t get that epic sensation of total blockage – seeing the corona, twilight appearing, stars coming out – partials are still an amazing experience.
“You’re going to get about 70% of the sun blocked out here in New York City,” Faherty explained at a press conference in the Hall of the Universe at the Museum on Monday. “The best way I can think to describe it is it’s like the Death Star is moving in front of the sun. There is something wholly unnatural about watching something moving in front of the sun.”
Phases of the Eclipse for NYC
1:23 pm – Start
2:44pm – Peak of totality (over 70 percent coverage)
4:00pm – End
So, how and where can you watch it, without harming your eyes?
To be sure, the sun is no more dangerous to look at during an eclipse than it is normally. “It doesn’t emit special ‘eclipse rays,’” quipped Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium. “It’s just that we never stare at the sun normally, because it hurts.”
The number one rule therefore is to protect your eyes. Planetarium associate and meteorologist Joe Rao said, “Be careful with eclipse glasses. There are some cheap knockoffs that might be dangerous. Make sure the eyewear has an ISO number and it’s been certified to be safe.” In 1925, when the Upper West Side was at the center of the action, people were urged to use “tinted glasses, a bit of exposed film, or even a broken piece of dark blue or brown glass,” according to a recent blog post from the Bloomingdale History Group.
Where can you get a pair of glasses these days that you can absolutely trust?
“Come to the Hall of the Universe in the Rose Center at noon,” smiled Roberto Lebron, AMNH’s senior communications director. “They’ll be a live feed of the totality, with science educators to guide you during the full four hours the eclipse is going on. For those who want to go outside, we’re going to have a quantity of eclipse glasses we’ll be handing out to the public, who can view the eclipse from the Arthur Ross terrace. So, if you’re a local community person from the Upper West Side, come here.”
You gotta love this neighborhood!
If you can’t make it to the Museum and don’t have eclipse glasses, here are some alternative suggestions for safe viewing:
Joe Rao said, “Go to your local hardware store and get a piece of welder’s glass, number 13 or 14, and look through that. If you don’t have welder’s glass or good eclipse glasses, then all you need is a tree. Go to the park, put a white sheet on the ground, and let the sunlight shine through the leaves. Like a pinhole camera, every single one of those spaces will give you an exact image of the eclipse.”
“The same effect can be achieved by holding up an ordinary colander (the kind with holes not mesh),” Tyson added.
“I would highly suggest standing out there and watching it from 12:30 to 4 pm, because you’ll actually see the moon move in front of the sun and away,” said Faherty.
One last instruction: “Please, please, please don’t experience it through your cellphone,” begged Rao. “This is something to enjoy and take in every single second, because every single second is precious.”
Go to http://www.amnh.org/calendar/hayden-special-event-total-solar-eclipse, for details about viewing the eclipse at the Museum, and a list of reputable sellers of eclipse glasses. There will also be a link to the event.
Believe it or not, all this celestial excitement could be dashed by earthly intervention. The eclipse will only be seen weather permitting. “If there is a heavy cloud cover,” Rao said, “I don’t think you’re going to notice much of anything.”