Sun and moon put on a show

A welder’s helmet, a tiny pair of binoculars and special glasses are just a few of the items the Okanagan Science Centre will have on hand as it holds a solar eclipse viewing event Monday.

But head of programming Kevin Aschenmeier wants everyone to view the eclipse safely and will provide a variety of items for viewing, including a large filter for the telescope.

“Some people have telescopes with the improper solar filter, but this one lets in less than one per cent of the light,” he said. “And if you’re an old school farmer like I am, you can use a welding helmet as long as it has a number 12 lens in it.

“We’ll also have a bunch of these special binoculars and we’ll have a bunch of the glasses as well.”

Used indoors, there’s not much to see but view the sun outdoors with one of these devices, and the sun becomes a bright orange ball.

The solar eclipse will be in full view south of the border — stretching across the United States — but while Canadians will only see a partial eclipse, Aschenmeier said it still promises to be a good show.

“We’ll have about 80 per cent of the eclipse; if it’s clear we can see fine details — instead of a nice smooth moon you might see little mountains, but even if it’s smoky we should still get a good view.”

Aschenmeier said while a lunar eclipse can be seen from any part of the world, with the solar eclipse you have to be in the right spot.

“Every time there’s a new moon, the moon is between us and the sun so during the new moon you can have an eclipse but because the moon’s orbit is tilted, every new moon doesn’t make an eclipse,” he said.

And he urges everyone to stay safe while viewing the eclipse. Because the sun is partially blocked, people have a tendency to think it’s safe to look at.

“Normally if you step outside in the sun, you look away. People think it’s safe, because you have a built-in reflex to look away from the sun and you don’t try and look at it, but during the eclipse people do, they think it’s dim and think it’s safe so they override this reflex.”

At Vernon Optometry, optometrist Dr. Tanner Udenberg stresses the importance of protecting your eyes while viewing the solar eclipse.

“You can damage your eyes with something called solar retinopathy — sun worshippers get it — there is no pain, no sensation, and then it’s too late, because the retina doesn’t have a lot of pain sensation receptors,” he said. “People think, ‘I’ll just look away when my eyes are hurting,’ but then the damage happens, and I’ve seen a handful of cases in the area.

“It’s a sunburn at the back of the eye. If people are really staring at it, it can be permanent. People think it will be fine, the sun is showing just a bit, but it’s not safe at all to look at any time unless you have those approved glasses.

“The damage happens quickly and often painlessly, and the key is this advice goes for partial and full eclipses and just because we are seeing a partial doesn’t make it OK.”

The Canadian Association of Optometrists offers the following safety tips to avoid any temporary or permanent eye damage while viewing the solar eclipse.

n Ensure your eyes are protected at all times by using approved solar eclipse viewers that meet international standard ISO 12312-2 for safe viewing.

n Sunglasses, even those with a very dark tint, are not sufficient protection.

n Staring at the sun without protection may cause damage to your retina (the tissue at the back of your eye) called “solar retinopathy.” This damage can occur without any sensation of pain. The injury can be temporary or permanent.

n If you can’t find eclipse viewers, make a pinhole projector to watch the eclipse. It’s important to only watch the screen, not the sun. Never look at the sun through the pinhole.

n Watch online: NASA will be streaming the full eclipse live.

Monday’s solar eclipse viewing event takes place at the Okanagan Science Centre from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

“The maximum viewing time will be 10:25,” said centre manager Irene McKechnie. “We’ll have special glasses for viewing the eclipse, a telescope with a special filter and we’ll show you how to make a pinhole projector.

“There are different ways to do the eclipse safely.”

The event is free and takes place in front of the OSC at 2704 Highway 6, at the entrance to Polson Park.