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There goes the Sun: today's solar eclipse in the Midwest

A partial solar eclipse, covering  about two-thirds of the Sun here in Des Moines, will take place from 4:31 PM to 6:44 PM locally (sunset is at 6:20.) It will come closest to totality at 5:40 PM.

Do NOT look directly at the Sun! Even a relatively brief period of staring at our local star can cause permanent eye damage! The only exception would be if you have a pair of Mylar "glasses" especially designed for the purpose. These are generally made of cardboard, and are available at various "nature stores" (also online, though it's a bit late for that). Some people use welder's goggles, but this is not a smart practice; experts say that they will not filter out some kinds of eye-damaging radiation.

What you can safely do is take two sheets of white paper, make a pin prick in one, and hold it between the sun and the other sheet (a few feet will do). The pinprick of light on the second sheet will be darkened in precisely the way that the Sun is darkened by the Moon coming between it and Earth (that complicated apparatus involving a box, a hole for your head, and a piece of white paper you sometimes hear about isn't necessary).

A few years ago I viewed an annular eclipse (one in which the Moon came directly between the Sun and Earth, but was too far away to cover the Sun's disk, causing a "ring of fire at its maximum point.) A parishioner- a missionary's son, who had viewed such an eclipse in South America- told me that the holes in a piece of particle board intended for the insertion of hooks to hang tools on would also do the trick, with a bigger image. Just on a hunch, I tried making an "OK" sign with my fingers to see whether the eclipse would be visible through it. It was; at maximum, there was a black dot right in the center!

I'll try it this afternoon, since I don't see why it shouldn't work with this one, too. But get yourself two pieces of paper and a pin, just to be sure.

A total eclipse will be visible in the Midwest (the St. Louis, Omaha, Lincoln corridor) on August 21, 2017. I first heard about it when I was a very small astronomy buff, and have been looking forward to it literally all my life. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I encourage anybody who can to plan to be in the area on that day.

Only 1032 days, 19 hours, and 28 minutes to go!


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