Get your cardboard and colander ready for ‘cookie-bite’ solar eclipse

There will be a solar eclipse this week so it could be handy to have a few things ready to help watch it safely.

We got advice from some astronomy experts — Blackrock Castle Observatory and Astronomy Ireland — to help here. 

An eclipse of the sun
An eclipse of the sun

When is this eclipse taking place?

It should be visible all over Ireland from 8am-11am on Thursday says Astronomy Ireland.

It’s an annular solar eclipse — when the Moon passes in front of the sun but the moon is not close enough to Earth to entirely cover the sun and cause a total eclipse of the Sun (when day turns to night for a few minutes) In an annular eclipse there is still a bright ring (annulus) of light around the darkened moon. 

“The good news is that from Ireland we get a fairly decent partial eclipse of the sun as it will occur high in the sky, about 50 degrees up in the southeast at maximum (mid) eclipse.”

Is this linked to the summer solstice this month?

Frances McCarthy is in charge of Education & Outreach at Cork’s Blackrock Castle Observatory. She said: “The ‘eclipse season’ (the 35-day period when eclipses happen) happens every 173 days, so the next eclipse season is in November -December (with a partial lunar eclipse and a total solar eclipse — total only in Antarctica), the one after that will be 2022, late April-May, then Oct- Nov etc… So it’s just a coincidence that the full moon of June is near the solstice.

Blackrock Castle Observatory Education and Outreach Officer – Frances McCarthy
Blackrock Castle Observatory Education and Outreach Officer – Frances McCarthy

Some US news sites are calling it a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse which sounds very dramatic. 

“Yes, it’s known as ‘ring of fire’ eclipse — but only if you are under the path of the maximum eclipse (so bits of Greenland, Baffin Island in Canada, near Hudson Bay etc). Most places will have a partial eclipse, so a ‘crescent’-looking Sun. For us in Cork, it will look like a chunk of the sun is missing — like a big cookie with a small bite taken out of it. Further north in Ireland will see a slightly bigger bite taken out of the sun – but nobody in Ireland will see the full annular effect with the ring of the sun fully around the dark moon,” explains Frances.

 A flotilla of fishing boats passing Blackrock Castle on their way to the Port of Cork on May 26. Picture Dan Linehan
A flotilla of fishing boats passing Blackrock Castle on their way to the Port of Cork on May 26. Picture Dan Linehan

Can I look at it directly?

Frances says: “Don’t look straight at it — eclipse blindness is a thing! Just as you wouldn’t look straight at the sun on a sunny day, don’t think that it is dim enough to be safe because part of the sun is covered by the Moon.”

Astronomy Ireland warns: “Never look at the sun with any optical aid (binoculars or telescopes) as permanent eye damage can happen instantly. It is not even safe to look at the sun with just the naked eye and even several pairs of sunglasses should not be used.”

How do I look at it so?

“Project it: use a big cardboard box and cut a square out of one end. Tape over a piece of foil over the hole and poke a tiny hole in the foil (the tip of a pencil is too big, so try a big darning needle). Cut a hole in the side or bottom of the box for your head to look in, and tape a piece of white paper on the far side of the box from the pinhole to make a screen.

How to Safely See a Partial Solar Eclipse

BUT the projected Sun will be tiny! Less than 1cm across.”

Astronomy Ireland has eclipse glasses for sale on its website also.

Astronomy Ireland eclipse glasses
Astronomy Ireland eclipse glasses

Any other tips?

“You can also try taking a colander outside. Look for the shadows of the holes of the colander on the ground — they will have crescent suns in them. 

Old-school projection of solar eclipse using a colander. Picture: Joe Mabel
Old-school projection of solar eclipse using a colander. Picture: Joe Mabel

Try to have the colander up high and a sheet of paper on the ground.

I’d like to ‘team up’ with some experts to watch the eclipse live please

Astronomy Ireland is hosting an event in Blanchardstown on Thursday. And there will be an at-home tutorial online too. Astronomer David Moore will be on hand with commentary and to answer questions. 

An Astronomy Ireland spokeswoman said: “The eclipse will be two hours long. Quite a spectacle.”

Register your interest at events@astronomy.ie

Ok, I’m hooked on astronomy now, what’s next?

There’s a lecture on Tales of the Solar System by Dr Meg Schwamb taking place on June 14. Dr Schwamb is a lecturer in the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) and the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). She also serves as co-chair of the Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time Solar System Science Collaboration. Dr Schwamb was awarded the 2017 Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science from the American Astronomical Society.

Meg Schwamb: a lecturer in the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) and the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University Belfast (QUB) in Britain.
Meg Schwamb: a lecturer in the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) and the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in Britain.

Registration through this link http://www.astronomy.ie/lecture202106.php

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