Leading up to the eclipse I have heard a lot of interesting questions from students.
I would like to address some of the questions students have had as I am sure they have asked you as well. This is an effort to make sure we are as informed as possible and can help students understand more about the sun and the solar eclipse.
#1 Why does the eclipse make the sun more dangerous?
To be clear, it is always dangerous to look at the sun. As a result of the high emphasis for eye protection during the eclipse some people have felt the event must add power to the sun in some way. This idea is wrong however. The difference is we typically do not try to look at the sun. And for good reason. The eclipse does not change the power of the sun in anyway. You should never look at the sun without proper eye protection. Eclipse glasses should be called sun glasses because the truly protect our eyes from the sun. Sunglasses should called “it is brighter out here than I can tolerate” glasses Or brightness glasses because they help us deal with a bright environment. Here is a link to give more detail about the dangers of looking at the sun. http://gizmodo.com/5926497/what-happens-when-you-stare-at-the-sun
#2 Can we take off our eclipse glasses during the eclipse.
If you are watching the eclipse from Out of the totality zone, you should NOT remove your glasses at any time while you are looking at the sun. Totality of course means the moon totally or completely blocks the sun. A small portion of the sun, a sliver if you will, will always be exposed. That small sliver will still emit a lot of powerful UV light which will cause permit damage to eyes that look at it. According to Rick Fienberg in the AAS video “How to safely watch a solar eclipse” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTCkC5ANlJg the eclipse glasses reduce the sun’s power to a millionth of what it would be without the glasses. If you have a million times the power blasting into your eyeballs, that is going to be problematic.
#3 I look at the sun all the time and do not have any problems.
Yes, you have likely glanced at the sun for less than half a second. That half a second did cause some damage but it did not cause permanent damage. The duration of time spent looking at the sun was so short your eyes will repair. That being said, after you glance at the sun, often times when you close your eyes you can still see the sun. That is because the bright image has been temporarily burned into your eyes. The longer you look at the sun the less temporary (and more permanent) the image becomes in your eyes.
#4 We are not in the path of totality so why do we even bother to look?
Even if you do not get to experience a total eclipse, partial eclipses are still really cool and very beautiful. We will be exposed to a 99% eclipse. From our vantage point in Dickson TN, the sun and moon combine to create a diamond ring effect. There will be a gentle ring of light around the moon and the part to the sun that peeks out will make the ring look like is has a big bright diamond.
#5 What about my animals, do I need to worry about them going blind during the eclipse?
No, your animals should be perfectly fine. Most animals of this planet to not have the sense of curiosity and capability to wonder the way humans do. Most organisms will not have the wherewithal to even realize something is different. Likely they will think nothing more than, Wow, that was a short day, and a shorter night, and it is day again already?! The animals may go through their night time behaviors during the eclipse because to them it seems to be night. They will not take the time to look up and burn their eyes.
Besides watching the eclipse there are some cool science experiments for which you can help scientists collect data as citizen scientists. Here is the NASA list of #citsci projects for the eclipse https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/citizen-science
There are two projects that caught my eye. Both are good because anyone can participate. The first one is called, How Cool is the Eclipse – https://observer.globe.gov/science-connections/eclipse2017 – This project asks citizen scientists like you and I to record changes in the clouds and air temperature before, during, and after the eclipse. Past eclipses observers have seen air temperature drop as the sun is covered by the moon. Scientists would like to more about any atmospheric changes that occur. Go to the site and download the app Global Observer to learn more about how to participate. It is free.
The second project is called, Life Responds – https://www.calacademy.org/citizen-science/solar-eclipse-2017 – This project asks citizen scientists to look at plants and animals and observe any changes in behavior during the eclipse. It is possible that animals and plants may react to their environment during the changes that occur with the solar eclipse. To learn more, visit the site above and download the iNaturalist app.
I have encouraged my students to participate in both citizen science projects and I will be participating with my offspring on Monday. We have already identified a few species of web building spiders in the yard for observation. Also curious to see if lightning bugs come out although it might be a little out of season. I expect it is going to be a lot of fun.