Much media hoopla will be made of next weekend’s “Annular Solar Eclipse” on May 20. Should you travel to California or Texas to see it?
Don’t bother. An annular eclipse is when the Moon crosses over the Sun’s face, but is too far away to cover it completely. The result is a ring or annulus of sunlight. It’s really a type of partial solar eclipse, which makes it too dangerous to look at.
It’s not totality. Night doesn’t fall. None of the amazing totality phenoms unfold. And, again, you’d need eye protection.
Here on the East Coast, we won’t even get a teensy partial eclipse. The Sun sets before any kind of eclipse begins. If you want totality – the greatest spectacle of nature – consider joining us in Australia early this November. That’s the premier solar event of a lifetime. If you care to wait around for a solar totality to come here, the next one is on May 1, 2079.
So they’re rare – but not the very rarest solar event. Just three weeks from now, we get a bona fide ultra-rare occurrence: the transit of Venus. That will be seen from here, starting at 6:21 p.m. on June 5. Our sister planet will visibly cross the Sun’s face, and all you need is proper eye protection. You need to have that all set up ahead of time – that is, unless you’ll be going to one of the many “transit events” held around the world; they’ll supply the correct safe filters. Mohonk Mountain House is having one, for example.
We’ll talk about the transit the next couple of weeks. For now, here’s what you need to purchase: Either send away for “eclipse glasses” – a couple of dollars tops, sold online at dozens of websites. Or, much better, get welders’ goggles, shade number 12, locally. These are optimal because they’re of excellent optical quality, so the image is perfect.
Last week, we researched this at Astronomy magazine and spoke with experts. Shade number 14 is fine when the Sun is overhead. But when the Sun is less than halfway up the sky, and is thus slightly less brilliant – like during this transit – welders’ goggles shade 12 are the very best. You can stare safely at the Sun forever, using them.
They’re good to have. The Sun’s storm activity is increasing as we approach its solar max next year, and through those welders’ goggles you can see all sunspots that are the size of Earth or larger.
Around here, the best places to purchase #12 are in Kingston at Cryo Weld, (845) 336-8680, and Noble Gas solutions, (845) 338-5061. You only need the replacement filter. But the entire goggle isn’t expensive, and then you can keep it on your head and not have to hold it.
The very best “instrument” for viewing the transit is through binoculars that have been prepped with this filter. Listen carefully, because you can’t fool around if you value your eyesight. The filter must be attached at the far end of the binocular, blocking the sunlight before it even enters the big lens. Don’t place it right where you look into the binocular. It must be attached with duct tape in an absolutely foolproof way. If it comes loose while you’re looking at the Sun, you can be blinded.
So do that only if you can do it so that it’s solid and can’t come loose. Vision is too precious. Use binoculars with 40mm or smaller lenses: That’s the second number in its specs, as in 7 x 35. If you’re not sure, don’t use the binoculars; simply look through the filter with the eye alone. Venus will then be quite small, but should be visible.
Get ready for the transit. No one alive today will ever see another.