The Eclipse Curmudgeon

Clipboard01When I was a boy, I saved up my money and bought a 3 inch reflector telescope from Edmund Scientific.  I believe it cost $29.95, which tells you how long ago it was, in the 1950s.  I don’t remember how old I was … I would guess twelvish.  With this telescope, from the hay field behind our house I could see the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, some of the larger nebulae, double stars and of course, incredible detail of the surface of the moon.   Nobody ever told me not to point my telescope at the sun.  Nobody had to.  I was a smart kid.  But when I learned about sunspots and heard a report of exceptional sunspot activity, I certainly wanted to.   I don’t know where I found the piece of green plexiglass that became my solar filter.  To the eye, it was opaque but if I held it up to the sun, I could see the sun through itplexiglass … which gave me an idea.  Using my Dad’s jigsaw, I cut a circular piece the size of my telescope tube and taped it over the open end.   Wallah.  Sunspots at 60X power.   I seem to remember watching a partial eclipse using my improvised solar filter, too.  Those was the good old days … or the bad old days, depending on your point of view.  No one checked the transmittance of my plexiglass disc, checked if it was compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.   Was my tape job sufficiently secure to assure the filter wouldn’t fall off, vaporizing my eyeball?  Yep, it was.  I still have two working Older Eyes.

Fast forward to the Total Eclipse Frenzy of 2017.   If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard, Don’t look directly into the sun, in the last year, well, I’d be glasses.jpgvery rich.  Sixty years ago, no one was talking about how to determine if your eclipse glasses were certified because there were no eclipse glasses.   People were looking at the eclipses through multiple layers of over-exposed black and white film negatives, or glass coated with lampblack from a candle.  There were no crowds in our hay field because back then, an eclipse was an occurrence.  Here in 2017 it has been a capital-E Event.  Does the excitement reflect a new interest in science?   I’m afraid not … its just the latest media driven, everyone-is-doing -it fad. The level of  mindless chatter and false enthusiasm on TV  has been unbearable.   And in an age where information is at our fingertips, the questions asked online about the eclipse … and warnings given by our talking heads on the news … would be funny if they weren’t so sad.   Just a few.

  • After repeatedly telling us that eclipse glasses should be so dark as to appear opaque (OK, she said, You can’t see though them, not opaque), a talking head gave this warning: Don’t drive with your eclipse glasses on. Duh.
  • A number of people inquired if The Event couldn’t be moved back until school started so the kids could watch it with their teachers. Duh
  • Question from a viewer:  Should I get eclipse glasses for my pet?  Answer: No, animals are too smart to stare at the sun.
  • Some schools are keeping children inside to avoid exposing them to radiation during the eclipse.   Of course, the sun will give off exactly the same radiation when the they walk home tomorrow.

Perhaps my favorite comment came from our local news station.  Explaining how special the opportunity  to see a total eclipse is, the newscaster said, You have to take the time to see this.  A total eclipse is such an incredible coincidence. Uuuuuhhh, no.  Its not … if it was a coincidence, scientists couldn’t predict the time and location of their occurrence.

eclips3e

Yes, I’m being a curmudgeon.  I am in a very curmudgeonly mood these days.  And I really do hope everyone enjoyed their eclipse experience.  It was less than stunning here in Socal, but my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids who drove to Idaho to  see the total eclipse said it was very cool.  And I admit, watching occurrences like eclipses and meteor showers with my Mom are some of my best childhood memories.  But then I am definitely a science geek. I’m not going to buy that its about the science for you unless you can answer a few eclipse question (without peaking at the answers).

  1. Total eclipses happen only every 40-50 years on earth.  True or false?  Answer here
  2. When an eclipse is total, the ring of light around the eclipse is called what? Answer here
  3. What is an annular solar eclipse?  Answer here
  4. If your location is in the umbra part of the moon’s shadow. you see a total eclipse.  True or false?  Answer here
  5. Extra credit: What would you see if you were standing on the Moon when the Earth experiences a total solar eclipse?  Answer here

So, how’d you do? Three out of five, you get to say it’s about the science.  Five out of five?   A freakin’ Nobel Prize.

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One Comment on “The Eclipse Curmudgeon”

  1. barrythewiz Says:

    I heard a warning that people should actually be putting glasses on their pets!! And, yes, I remember blackening glass “back in the day”. It’s amazing we’re not blind, right?


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