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BW expert: Make the total solar eclipse a safe and social experience

BW Burrell Observatory director Gary Kader offers advice for taking advantage of Northeast Ohio's front-row seat to a spectacular solar event.

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Viewing a total solar eclipse may be one of the most awe-inspiring experiences you will ever have. Since we humans are social creatures, an event like this needs to be shared with others.

You will certainly understand why ancient people placed such significance to these events when you witness the stars shining during the day. 

Where to watch

For the upcoming April 8 total solar eclipse, there are a number of watch parties around Northeast Ohio that you can search for on the web, including one right here at Baldwin Wallace University's Finnie Stadium. Some gatherings in and around Cleveland are expected to be massive. Keep in mind that after totality, traffic will be massive. Think of the Browns, Cavaliers and Guardians all letting out during rush hour.  

If a large watch party isn't your thing, at least enjoy the experience with family and friends. You should check out your viewing location a couple of days before to ensure no obstructions in your sightlines.

There is a lot of talk about the best Northeast Ohio location to view the eclipse. Lying right on the centerline is Avon Lake which will experience three minutes and 52 seconds of totality. Being realistic, with the shadow paralleling the Lake Erie shore, anywhere along the shore East of Sandusky is very good. Ashtabula will have only six seconds less totality. Even south of the shoreline, the time difference isn't significant, if you don't venture too far. For example, Medina will experience three minutes and 27 seconds of totality.

What to look for

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Here is what to look for: As the Moon covers the Sun, the exposed part of the Sun gets smaller, and the shadows get sharper (they usually have soft edges). The reptilian part of your brain may trigger a queasy feeling of something not being right. Just before totality, you will see the diamond ring effect. Follow that NASA link; it's really cool.

During totality, you will be able to see stars and planets. Above and to the left, about the distance of your splayed-out hand at arm's length, you'll find Jupiter. Below and to the right, about the distance across your fist at arm's length, is Venus. Both are quite bright. If this is your first eclipse, don't try to take pictures. While you are fiddling with your camera, you just might miss it. 

How to protect your eyes

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You need to observe a solar eclipse safely. There is nothing inherently dangerous about an eclipse. Staring at the Sun IS dangerous. During the partial phases of the eclipse, you are, in fact, staring at the Sun; therefore, you need to use proper filters.

Totality is about as bright as a full Moon and is safe to look at without a filter. If you use the filter during totality, you will not be able to see anything. DO NOT USE BINOCULARS OR ANY OTHER OPTICAL AID WITH THE FILTER OTHER THAN YOUR PRESCRIPTION GLASSES. NASA's website has more details on safe observation.

If you would like a fun project, this YouTube video shows how to make a viewer out of a cereal box. If you're planning to join us at BW, we'll be offering free viewing glasses while supplies last.

The window of opportunity

Here are the eclipse times for downtown Cleveland:

  • Start of the partial: 1:59:23
  • Start of totality: 3:13:36
  • End of totality: 3:17:35
  • End of partial eclipse: 4:29:00

If you miss this opportunity, there is always 2099, when the next total solar eclipse will be visible from Ohio. Fingers crossed for good weather and happy viewing! 

A version of this column first appeared on cleveland.com and in all editions of the SUN Newspapers.

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