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Cosmic Clockwork Safety

As I hope you know by now Satchel Construction is all about safety. It’s drummed into all of our staff on a daily basis, we’ve designed permanent job site signage dedicated to the topic and it’s the top agenda item in all of our project planning meetings. We even produce a critically acclaimed sticker series dedicated to construction site safety. But while this blog is indeed all about safety, it has absolutely nothing to do with construction. This warning is about the cosmos! 

Next week, on Monday, April 8 at approximately 3:10pm EST, South Carolina will be able to witness one of the coolest celestial events in years and one that won’t happen again until 2044! I am of course talking about the impending total solar eclipse or, as it’s been dubbed by some media outlets, The Great North American Eclipse. While this event is not passing directly over South Carolina, which unfortunately means we won’t see totality, we will still be in for quite a show providing we have clear weather.

But how could this be possibly dangerous? Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we go any further, I believe a little refresher on what a total solar eclipse is and is not might be in order.

The simplest explanation goes something like this; a total solar eclipse is when our moon passes directly in front of the sun and casts a localized shadow on the earth. From our point of view, the moon appears to move across the sun until it reaches totality and blocks out all but the very outer ring of light projected by the sun. That outer ring of light which is comprised of ion gasses is called the corona (nothing to do with either the beer or the virus) and is only visible to the naked eye during one of these events. All in all, the event it will only last a couple of hours, with totality only lasting a few minutes, but as the moon slowly passes in front of the sun, you will be able to literately watch our universe in action. 

There are of course many different types of solar & lunar eclipses, but I’m not a science teacher, so if you want to know more about what the moon, sun and earth get up to from time to time, please click on the provided link below. I promise, it will be much more helpful and informative than I’m attempting at the moment.

Last week my boss suggested that I write this blog about the solar eclipse, my immediate reply was that it would be a very short blog and read something like this; “Don’t Look At It!!”, preferably in a Gilbert Gottfried or Sam Kinison type of voice. But after a little thought and a little research I determined there could be a bit more meat on this bone, so here we are; solar eclipse safety.  

I think we can all agree that looking directly into the sun hurts right? And you could expect that there would be some damage done to your little peepers after looking into the brightest thing imaginable for any extended period of time right? Well, looking into a solar eclipse does exactly the same damage, but because of the moon being in the way, it doesn’t hurt, so the instinct is to keep looking. Big mistake. 

After every one of these solar events and despite all the warnings, optometrists are inundated with calls and visits from children and adults who…. you guessed it, looked directly at the solar eclipse. Optometrists and eye doctors say that if someone were to look directly at the eclipse, they could start to feel or notice the effects within a few hours. These can include blurred vision, weeping eye ducts and headache. But wait, that’s not all. The long term effects can include “eclipse blindness”, retinal burn, cell damage and straight up loss of sight, aka blindness in one or both eyes. All of a sudden this eclipse malarkey isn’t sounding too clever right? Well fear not as I’ve got some good news.

Despite the clear & present danger, there are a few ways you can safely view this event, they range from the super easy to the slightly crafty. So here we go!

The first and easiest is to get yourself a pair of Solar Eclipse Glasses. These look like the old style 3D glasses. They’re cheap, flimsy and disposable. You can sometimes find them at CVS or Walgreens in areas where the eclipse will be visible, or you can order a pair from Amazon. Wait, I hear you say, “Can’t I just wear my pair of polarized $375 Prada sun specs”? No, not unless you’d like to be the coolest blind person at brunch next week? These Solar Eclipse Glasses are not cool, they are not stylish, nor are they particularly comfortable, but the specialized plastic lenses ensure you can look at this event from start to finish without fear of damaging your sight. Be sure that the glasses you buy are certified and denote the ISO 12312-2 certification. Counterfeits are apparently flooding the market (shameless), so please check the link below to help ensure you’re getting the real deal.

Next is another easy solution for people who want to document the eclipse or get a closer look. The same plastic lenses used in the cheap glasses come in pre-cut sizes for binoculars, telescopes, SLR cameras and smart phones. Looking at the eclipse through any of these will also hurt your eyes as well unless you apply one of these filters. 

So that’s glasses and filters sorted, but before we go on to the last method, I should explain the image below. Please don’t get annoyed with me, especially after everything I’ve just told you, but not all of the eclipse is dangerous. When the moon is entering and exiting over the sun, you absolutely need the glasses or filter, but when the moon has reached totality (the middle bit), you may remove your glasses or filter to view the event with the naked eye.

Now comes the “crafty” way to view this comic event. Instead of glasses or filters, you’re going to construct a Pinhole Projector.

First you will need a poster tube or a longer rectangle box. Both ends of the tube or box will need to be sealed. At one end you’re going to poke a hole, about the size of a pencil lead. At the other end you’re going to cut a viewing hole in the side of the tube/box 2” x 2”sq about 1” up from the base.

Using a tripod or something to prop your tube up on, you’re going to point your projector (pinhole side up), directly at the sun. This will project an image of the eclipse through your tube or box to the base where the progress of the moon can be seen through the viewing window at the base. When the eclipse has reached totality you can look up and when the moon begins it’s exit, you can go back to the viewing window in your projector. Note that you will have to move your projector to stay with the sun as it moves across the sky.

There are of course pre-made tubes & boxes that you can buy, but where is the fun in that? This is something easy and fun to do. It takes no special equipment or training, plus you get to decorate your projector and make it a truly memorable experience.

So there you have it, those are the ways to safely view the upcoming solar eclipse. Again, please avail yourself of the links provided below. I hold no qualifications to talk about this stuff other than the ability to look things up on the internets and peer up at the sky. Be safe, have fun and enjoy the cosmic clockwork show you’re about to be treated to.

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