The Total Solar Eclipse on Monday, Aug. 19, is a rare chance to see the moon block out the sun, or part of it. Here’s what to expect, and how to watch even if you don’t have the protective eyewear that’s necessary to prevent eye damage. Our tips are from the experts at NYC’s Hayden Planetarium
Yes, you absolutely need protective eyewear. NYC stores have all but sold out of solar eclipse glasses, and it’s likely too late to get them online. So you’ll have to be creative, unless you are going to a viewing party which is providing glasses.
See our Guide to the Total Solar Eclipse in NYC for a list of viewing events
NYC is north of the path of what is being called Totality. NYC and the Tri-State area will get approximately a 70% eclipse, but even that is enough to permanently damage your eyes without proper protection. Squinting is not enough.
During the totality, the Moon turns day into night. You can see the stars in the sky even though far off, on the horizon around you, the Sun is still shining. You’re in the middle of a cone of night surrounded by normal daylight.
Since NYC is not in the path of Totality, the Sun will not be completely blocked by the Moon, and the Sun’s light can still blind you.
Solar Eclipse viewing events at the American Museum of Natural History, the Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, and some New York Public Library branches, including providing certified safe viewing glasses.
Alternatives to solar eclipse glasses
Here’s what you can do instead, from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist director of NYC’s Hayden Planetarium at AMNH, pictured here at the Solar Eclipse news confernece I attended earlier this week, and other experts from AMNH –
Go to a hardware store or construction supply store and buy welding glasses in 13 or 14 density, only. Anything less than 13 will not protect your eyes, and anything more than 14 will be too dark to see the eclipse.
Put a white sheet, pillowcase or even a white t-shirt on the ground, and look at the white fabric to watch the shadow of the moon moving across the sun, much like the Death Star in Star Wars.
Use an ordinary kitchen colander – the same one you use to drain pasta or veggies. Not the mesh kind, says Dr. deGrasse Tyson, but one with small round or square holes. Hold it at arm’s length, above that white sheet on the ground, to see many eclipse shadows. Do not use the colander as a pinhole viewer to look directly through one of the holes at the sun.
Here’s a crafty idea from NASA –
Take an ordinary shoebox or ceereal box, and put a pinhole on one side, with a needle or a pushpin. Put the box over your head with the sun behind you, and watch the shadow of the eclipsee on the other side of the box. The farther you are from the “screen”, the larger the image will be. Do not look through the pinhole.
Or, stay inside and watch the Total Solar Eclipse live streamed. Several TV networks are live streaming the celestial event. The AMNH is live streaming the NASA feed.
What to expect before, during and after
Dr. Jacqueline Faherty, an astronomer in the museum’s Dept. of Astrophysics, says to be aware of what is happening around you as the eclipse begins. There will be a strange yellowness as the solar twilight begins, and the wind will come up.
Animals including birds, dogs and cats, will behave as though it is night, and may act a bit strangely a few minutes later when “night” ends and daylight returns. In other words, they might freak out. So kęep a watchful eye on your pets.
If you are driving, turn on your headlights.
During the eclipse, the Moon turns day into night. You will see the stars in the sky even though far off, on the horizon around you, the Sun is still shining close to the horizon, because you are in the middle of a cone of night surrounded by normal daylight. That cone of darkness is approximately 70 miles wide.
Since NYC is not in the path of Totality, the Sun will not be completely blocked by the Moon, so the Sun’s light can still blind you if you look at it. Squinting is not enough.
From start to finish, the Total Solar Eclipse will last about four hours, between Noon and 4pm.
Peak coverage is about three minutes, with the NYC version of totality (approximately 70%) at 2:44pm. Dr. Faherty descibes it as resembling the Death Star in Star Wars blocking out the planet it was approaching.
But it will be a memorable three minutes, especially if you look at the solar halo without protective eyewear and suffer permanent eye damage.
Both Tyson and Faherty urge us to experience this rare phenomena with all your senses, not with a camera. There will be plenty of professional photos, including by NASA, so this is one time to “be in the moment” and experience it physically and emotionally. Besides, you could endanger your eyes looking through a camera lens, or taking a selfie.
Where will you be for the Total Solar Eclipse? I’ll be at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at AMNH.