For a few minutes last week, I thought that maybe I was overly excited about the annular eclipse that will occur near where I live. But then I listened to this amazing episode of Ear Snacks and learned that there are people who travel around the world to view them, called eclipse chasers!! While I'm not a chaser, I did take my 4-year-old on a 700-mile (round trip) pilgrimage to see the total solar eclipse that happened in August of 2017 and we're heading in the same direction again this weekend to see the annular eclipse. So maybe I'm working toward chaser status.
What I Learned About Eclipses from Kids Podcasts
An eclipse is when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow and blocking light. While an eclipse is happening it can feel like nighttime in the middle of the day. A total solar eclipse is when the Moon covers the entire sun, creating darkness. An annular eclipse is when the moon covers the center of the sun, leaving an outer ring visible. This is referred to as the ring of fire. It happens when the moon is further away from the Earth, making it look smaller and unable to block all of the sun.
What makes the eclipse experience so exciting is how rare this occurrence is. Total solar eclipses can only be viewed from certain locations (the path of the eclipse) every few years. Having that path near you during a time of year when the weather cooperates, makes the opportunity to see an eclipse less likely, which is why some people chase them around the world!
The Best Ways to View an Eclipse
The most important thing to remember when planning to view an eclipse is to make sure you protect your eyes. Never look at the sun directly without the proper eye protection or you can risk permanent damage to your eyes. Special glasses like these must be used to properly block solar radiation when you are directly looking at an eclipse. You might think that using sunglasses will work, but they don't have the proper solar filters designed to safely view.
If you have trouble finding the official solar eclipse glasses, like the kind in the link above, another safe tool to use is welding glass. You can typically find this at your local hardware store or an auto parts store. It's a square piece of glass that you hold in front of your eyes while directly looking at the eclipse. Note that the glass must be at least #14 (the grade of welding glass).
For wiggly little kids who may have a hard time keeping glasses on, try to create a mask like this. We created the one in this picture during the 2017 eclipse.
Another safe way to view an eclipse is through a pinhole projector. This provides an indirect view by creating a small hole in a piece of cardboard, allowing sunlight to project onto a flat surface. Here are some DIY ways to create the pinhole viewer.
For the best view, find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky. Parks, school playgrounds, sports fields, or elevated areas will be great viewing spots if the weather is clear. If possible, plan your viewing spot away from light pollution.
The Best Information on When and Where
There are many online resources to help you find the best place and time to view the eclipse near you. I have been looking at my weather app and using this website to determine by location the best chance we have to see the eclipse (without rain or clouds).
Lastly, here are links to kids' podcasts and episodes that have great information on eclipses. They talk about the last “Great American Eclipse” that happened in 2017 as well as the annular eclipse happening this weekend.