“If you don’t experience a full solar eclipse,” says celebrated astrophysicist and director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “you are not living life to the fullest!”
This morning, Playground was lucky to attend a discussion about the Eclipse led by stellar astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the American Museum of Natural History (also a great spot for a special sleepover).
On August 21, a solar eclipse will darken the skies in an arc from Oregon to South Carolina, the first time a solar eclipse will be visible in the United States since 1979, and the first time a path of totality (when the moon completely covers the sun) has been completely in the US in 85 years — making it a pretty big deal (the next one won’t be until 2024).
To say the scientists at AMNH are excited about the eclipse and sharing it with the public would be an understatement. Joe Rao, a Hayden Planetarium guest lecturer, says he couldn’t sleep the night before a total eclipse (he’s seen 15!): “It’s like Christmas Eve and New Years rolled into one!”
Senior scientist Jackie Faherty encourages all families to plan to watch the eclipse, adding that even a partial eclipse (which is what folks here in the northeast will see), will, “Look like the Death Star is moving in front of the sun.” (Pretty cool, right?!)
Eclipse or Bust
The closest spots to the New York area that will be in totality, when the sun is completely covered by the moon, around 2:30pm ET, are about 10 to 13 hour drive south in South Carolina. You can plan an Eclipse road trip to popular southern cities in the path of totality such as Nashville and Charleston (or further west — check the NASA interactive map for options), although most hotels are fully booked in these areas and “there will be history making traffic jams,” according to Rao.
If you’re staying local, set a reminder for 1:23pm, when the eclipse will start, then another for 2:44, when it will be at its maximum coverage (about 70 percent in NYC); it will completely end by 4. It’s a perfect opportunity to get involved with science with your kids; you can make an Solar Eclipse Projector (remember to never look directly in the sun), plan an Eclipse Party, or visit the AMNH for their viewing events.
Here are the tips we learned from Tyson and the other scientists at AMNH for the best ways to see the natural phenomenon wherever you are:
1. Get the proper eyewear. Solar viewing glasses should be worn if you and the kids are looking at the sun. Remove them only when the sun is in “totality.” (Reminder: NEVER look directly at the sun without protective eyewear.)
2. Step away from your cell phone. Tyson says: “This is one of the greatest spectacles of nature! Soak it up and enjoy it, don’t watch it through your phone.”
3. Alternate viewing option: Don’t have viewing glasses? Go to the hardware store and ask for level “13” or “14” welder’s glass, says Rao. Hold it up to view the celestial events. This level of glass is dark enough so you can see the sky show, but dark enough that you won’t burn your eyes.
4. Spaghetti viewer: Tyson’s most interesting tip? Use an old fashioned metal pasta strainer to create a quick “pinhole viewer.” Hold the strainer above the ground and watch the shadows that form underneath; the hundreds of draining holes will project the moving shadow of the moon across the sun for a perfect show.
5. Leaves in the park: Still don’t have any of the implements above? Rao has one last suggestion: Lay a white sheet under a leafy tree and watch the shadows shift for a natural projection of the show.