There will be a partial solar eclipse this evening. You will want to look at it. Do not look at it.
If you ever needed proof that the media has to write and speak to adults on an elementary school reading level, look no further than articles about astronomical events. During the summer supermoons and the lunar eclipse two weeks ago, for example, many news websites told readers how to look at the moon. Not when or where, but how. They had to give people instructions on how to bend their necks back and look up at a bright shiny sky disk.
This afternoon, the moon's position will be such that it blocks out a small part of the sun in an event visible to most of North America, weather permitting. This partial solar eclipse will begin around 6:00 PM in the east and around 3:00 PM in the west.
There's a reason they teach preschoolers not to look into the sun, and there's no reason the news should have to reiterate it for the parents of those preschoolers. Looking directly at the sun can cause a sunburn on one's cornea most commonly known as "snow blindness," and in more serious cases, looking directly into the sun for too long can lead to partial or complete blindness.
If you want to view the eclipse, use an approved solar filter (eclipse glasses or a welding mask) to look at the sun to protect your eyes from damage. Put a solar filter on a telescope if you plan to observe the eclipse through one—do not look through a telescope at the sun without eye protection. Imagine using a magnifying glass on an ant, and that is what it will do to your eye.
If you don't have access to proper eyewear, grab two pieces of printer paper and head outside to an open, sunny spot. Poke a small hole in one piece of paper and place the other one on the ground. Hold the holey paper a few feet above the piece on the ground—if you do it right, you'll be able to project an image of the sun onto the other piece of paper, eclipse and all.
Here's the latest cloud cover forecast from the National Weather Service, valid for 5 PM EDT, about an hour before the eclipse begins. Blue indicates clear skies, while gray indicates cloudy skies.
The next solar eclipse in the United States will be a total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. A total lunar eclipse will be 100% visible in the eastern United States on September 28, 2015. It will probably be cloudy in your location on both of those dates.
[Images: AP, NWS]
Previously in The Vane's Coverage of Astronomy:
- HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THIS SUPERMOON
- ALL HAIL SUPERMOON
- Wake up Early Tomorrow to Watch the Earth Moon Shadow