Are you ready for the solar eclipse?
Tips help viewers stay safe, get the most out of astronomical event
August 16, 2017
We asked two scientists from the Houston Museum of Natural Science how to make the most of Monday’s celestial phenomenon. James Wooten, planetarium astronomer, and Carolyn Sumners, the museum’s vice president of astronomy, will both be in Casper, Wyo., which is on the “line of totality.” We won’t see a total eclipse like they will – we’re too far south – but here’s their advice for sky-watching in Houston.
What time does the eclipse happen?
It starts at 11:46 a.m. – that’s when the moon will make its first dent in our view of the sun. We’ll hit maximum eclipse here at 1:16 p.m., when the moon covers up two-thirds of the sun. Then, as the moon moves on, more and more of the sun will become visible. The whole thing ends at 2:45.
What will it look like?
In Houston, we’ll see about two-thirds of the sun covered up, casting a crescent-shaped shadow.
“It will be like a cloudy day,” Wooten said. The sky won’t become twilight-dark the way it will north of us. But you’ll notice a difference in the light, even if you’re inside.
What if it’s cloudy on Monday?
Where to watch the eclipse
Houston Museum of Natural Science
The museum will have telescopes out on the lawn for safe viewing and projects to help kids learn how the eclipse works. Sign up for one of six 15-minute programs that will explain the eclipse and show images from spots along the line of totality as they roll in. At a sold-out 2 p.m. event, Vice President of Astronomy Carolyn Sumners will stream the eclipse live from Casper, Wyo., to the museum’s planetarium.
When: Noon-2 p.m. at Hermann Park location, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at HMNS at Sugar Land
Where: 5555 Hermann Park Drive and 13016 University Blvd. in Sugar Land.
Cost: The 15-minute program is $4; the planetarium livestream is sold out.
Children’s Museum of Houston
At the museum’s viewing party, learn how to use a pinhole viewer to watch the eclipse. (If you want to make your own, register to attend a 45-minute workshop on Saturday. Times vary; cost is $5. Sign up online.)
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 1500 Binz
Cost: Museum admission $12 ($11 seniors and military personnel, free for kids younger than 1)
Space Center Houston
The Space Center will provide some viewing glasses and sunspotters on the plaza. At Pop-Up Science Labs inside, guests can make their own eclipse projectors. Guest speakers from the Johnson Space Center will talk about the sun, the eclipse and solar weather, and screens everywhere will display NASA’s livestream.
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 1601 NASA Parkway
Cost: Museum admission $29.95 ($27.95 seniors, $24.95 kids ages 4-11, free for kids 3 and younger)
Trini Mendenhall Community Center
Members of the Houston Astronomical Society will help visitors view the eclipse. Light snacks and eclipse-viewing glasses are provided.
When: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Where: 1414 Wirt
Scientists and educators from the Lunar and Planetary Institute will be on hand at the park with tips, information and eclipse-viewing glasses.
When: Noon-2 p.m.
Where: 3801 Eastside
Harris County Public Libraries
Eight county library branches will have viewing parties, including the La Porte, Tomball, Galena Park and Stratford locations. A limited number of free viewing glasses will be available. At the Freeman Branch Library, scientists and educators from the Lunar and Planetary Institute will be on hand to provide tips and assistance.
When: Times vary
Where: Multiple locations; check the list online or contact your nearest branch.
University of Houston
UH’s Astronomy Society will provide solar goggles and filtered telescopes, or you can assemble a pinhole projector. Watch a NASA livestream of the eclipse from the path of totality.
When: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 3517 Cullen (University of Houston campus, on the lawn outside the Science and Research buildings)
Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences
The Brazosport Astronomy Club will offer tips and guidance in the parking lot, including special demonstrations for kids. Inside, you can watch NASA’s livestream on the ceiling of the center’s planetarium.
When: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 400 College Blvd., Clute
That will be a problem. We won’t be able to see anything if it’s cloudy. In that case, go inside, enjoy the air conditioning and catch a live feed online from a part of the country on the line of totality.
Do I need special eclipse-viewing glasses?
If you want to see the eclipse directly, yes.
You’ve heard it all your life: Don’t look directly at the sun. You can burn a hole in your retina, the way kids with a magnifying glass can burn holes in objects on a sunny sidewalk.
Eclipse glasses will allow you to look at the sun without eye damage. These are the cardboard glasses you’ve seen at stores for a few dollars. They aren’t regular sunglasses; they make the sun 10,000 times dimmer.
But be careful here; people wanted to make a quick buck off the eclipse, so the market has been flooded with counterfeit glasses that don’t meet safety standards. Even if your glasses say they comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard, they might be fakes.
The American Astronomical Society has made a list of reputable retailers that includes major chains such as Lowe’s, Kroger, Walmart, Toys R Us and Best Buy. Call ahead before you go to any of these stores because the glasses are going fast. An alternative: The Houston Museum of Natural Science gift shop expects to get a shipment of 2,500 pairs in time for the eclipse.
If you don’t have enough glasses for everyone, cut the pair in half and mount each filter on a card, Sumners suggested. You can pass those around so everyone gets a view.
How can I tell whether my glasses are the real deal?
Here’s a test: You shouldn’t be able to see through them, even light from lamps or standard light fixtures. The only light you should see is extremely bright, such as a bare CFL lightbulb or the LED flashlight on your smartphone. And even that light won’t be too bright.
Does my pet need special glasses, too?
No. Your dog doesn’t know he’s supposed to look up. “It’s not being in sunlight that causes the problem – it’s staring at the sun,” Sumners said. “A pet’s not going to stare at the sun.”
What if I can’t get any glasses?
It’s OK. You can make your own device to see (and photograph) a projection of the eclipse.
If you don’t want to go to trouble, just look for something that casts a shadow on the ground. Anything with small holes will do – a colander, for instance, or even an index card with a hole in it. “Cheez-Its work great,” Sumners said. Stand with your back to the sun, hold up your paper and watch the shadow it casts on the ground. In the light that shines through the hole, you’ll be able to see the crescent of sunlight change as the moon moves across.
You can make a more sophisticated viewer with a shoebox, a thumbtack and some aluminum foil. Google “shoebox solar eclipse viewer” and you’ll find YouTube videos and detailed instructions for making a pinhole projector.
How big a deal is this eclipse?
The last time the United States saw a full solar eclipse, it was 1979 – and no, Texas didn’t get the full moon-over-sun experience back then, either. Our next chance comes in 2024, when parts of the state will. But don’t ignore this eclipse, Sumners said. This is an opportunity to make a memory.
“Most people can recall one or two in their lifetimes,” she said. “If you have children and you want your children to remember a day or two in their lives when they’re young, they’ll remember this one.”
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