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Eclipse could be spectacular and dangerous

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

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Natural Alabama 8-18-17

Eclipse could be spectacular -- and dangerous

By Ken Hare

On Monday, Alabamians won't have a front-row seat to the Great American Eclipse -- those seats are reserved for those who live in or are willing to travel to the narrow band of territory where the eclipse will reach totality, a vantage point from which the Moon briefly will be centered between the Earth and the Sun. But don't fret -- Central Alabama will have spectacular views of the eclipse as well.

But with those potentially great views comes a very real danger as well. Here in Central Alabama, at the peak of the eclipse at about 1:35 p.m. Monday, the Moon will cover about 90 percent of the Sun's surface. However, looking directly at that remaining 10 percent without special glasses or eye protections would still cause very serious and potentially lasting eye damage.

Let me repeat that: In Alabama, as in most of the United States, there will be NO time during the eclipse when it is safe to look directly at the Sun without approved safety eyewear designed specifically for this purpose.

No sunglasses, no matter how dark, will protect your eyes from looking directly at the eclipse. Never -- never -- look at the Sun through binoculars or telescopes not equipped with special filters. Even special glasses that meet specifications should not be used if they are more than a year or two old, or if they are crinkled or have scratches.

You may have read elsewhere that there will be a brief moment at "totality" when it will be safe to look directly at the eclipse. But that exists only in that narrow band -- about 65 miles wide -- of totality, and I frankly would be hesitant to do it even there. To get to the closest point of totality from Montgomery would require driving more than 200 miles northeast -- well out of the state of Alabama.

So again, there is NO PLACE in Alabama, and at no point in the eclipse, where it would be safe to look directly at the Sun without special glasses or equipment, and no sunglasses will help.

Another warning: Some unscrupulous manufacturers and irresponsible dealers have sold shoddy eyewear or filters touted as adequate protection during the eclipse. Some of these have been recalled, and some have been removed from the shelves. But there is the potential for serious eye damage if you're not sure you have the real thing. Do your research. Here is a good place to start.

OK, have I scared you? Good. I meant to. There is very real potential for eye damage. Keep in mind that you might not feel any pain from looking at the Sun -- there are no pain receptors in the retina -- but lasting damage could still be occurring.

Now for the good news. Even if you don't have special glasses that you have researched thoroughly and feel comfortable wearing, there are ways to enjoy viewing the eclipse safely.

Perhaps the best way to experience the eclipse is using a pinhole camera. They allow you to see the eclipse progress by looking at an image of the Sun projected on a surface, without ever looking directly at the Sun. These are easy to make, and there are lots of spots on the Internet to see how.

I watched a partial solar eclipse in my backyard several years ago using just two pieces of good quality poster paper -- one white sheet that served as the "screen" to project the image on, and another with a small pinhole punched in it using a very small nail. I let the Sun shine over my shoulder through the pinhole projecting a small image onto the other sheet. It worked fine.

But here I go trying to scare you again -- NEVER look directly at the Sun through the pinhole. Never. Use the pinhole only to project an image and view only that projected image.

I haven't made one, but my favorite pinhole camera project that I've seen online can be quickly made using a box, a piece of white paper, a small piece of aluminum foil, tape, a very small nail, and scissors. Here is a link to one such box pinhole viewer:

If you're really nervous about watching the eclipse directly, there will plenty of opportunities to see it safely on television -- WSFA will have special coverage -- and on the Internet.

Of course, bad weather could ruin it all. As of this writing four days before the event, the National Weather Service is predicting a mostly sunny day in Central Alabama with about 55 percent sky cover at the time of the eclipse on Monday. So stay tuned to WSFA on air or online to see how the weather is likely to be.

In Montgomery, the eclipse should start about 12:03 p.m., peak at about 1:35 p.m., and be over by 3 p.m.  For viewing times in other locations, go to:

So hope for a clear day, and get outside to see this rare and phenomenal natural event. But please, do it safely.

NATURE NOTES

 -- "Chirps and Chips," a casino-themed evening, will be Saturday, Aug. 19, from 7-10 p.m. at Rosewood Hall at SoHo Square, 2850 19th St. South, Homewood. Sponsored by Raptor Force, the junior board of the Alabama Wildlife Center, the event will feature games, live entertainment, a silent auction and a drawing, as well as heavy hors d'oeuvres. Proceeds will benefit the Alabama Wildlife Center to help with its rehabilitation program for native Alabama birds. Tickets are $50 per person. Details here.

-- The deadline for the Alabama Ornithological Society photo contest is Sept. 1. There are three categories -- Backyard, Flight and Natural Habitat. Details: aosbirds.org.

-- The Alabama Birding Trails web page has a comprehensive list of upcoming birding and nature-related activities around the state that is much more detailed than space allows here. Most of the activities are open to the public and many are free. See it.

---
Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at khare@wsfa.com. To see other columns, go to Ken's page.

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