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Totality Cool: How to Watch the Eclipse Safely

solar eclipse tips with kidsMy nerd is showing. When my husband and I starting dating nearly 10 years ago, we made a date to travel to Kansas City to watch the solar eclipse scheduled for August 21, 2017.

True story. It’s been on our Google Calendar ever since. We promised no matter what (hidden message: even if we had kids) we would travel to see the eclipse in totality.

While we’re keeping our promise and traveling to see the eclipse, you don’t have to travel any further than out your front door to enjoy this rare event.

We have an eclipse on earth about every year and a half, but this one is a big deal because it’s the first total solar eclipse to travel from coast to coast in America in nearly 100 years. Furthermore, an eclipse passes through Iowa only once or twice every century.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, obscuring the image of the Sun on Earth. In central Iowa, the sun will be 95% eclipsed around 1:08 p.m. As Ashton Observatory Director Greg Woolever said, “95% is a very dramatic event, but nothing like totality.”

That is why he says a lot of the Des Moines Astronomical Society members will be out of state seeking to see the eclipse in totality (like me). That being said, observation of the eclipse can be done from any location. No one place is better than another, but it can be fun observing as a group and witnessing a rare moment with your children.

Here are some places where you can join others in the Des Moines area, and some tips to watch the eclipse safely. If you miss it, you may have to wait another century for the next one!

Star Party

at the Iowa State Capitol West Terrace
This free event is hosted by the Science Center of Iowa and the Des Moines Astronomical Society. Staff and volunteers will provide telescopes with solar filters for the public to safely view the eclipse. They will also have solar glasses for sale at $2.50 each. The event will begin around 11:45 a.m., when the eclipse begins, and the event ends around 2:45 p.m. when they expect the eclipse to conclude in central Iowa. RSVP on Facebook here.

Solar Eclipse Viewing Party

Franklin Avenue Library from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
All participants are required to receive a mandatory safety viewing lesson and pair of protective glasses. Bring lawn chairs, blankets, snacks, and plenty of water. In case of inclement weather, there will be a live feed of the eclipse from NASA in the Meeting Room. 

Ashton Observatory

8755 W. 122nd Street North, Mingo, IA 50168
The Ashton Observatory will host people to view the eclipse for free. Ashton Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the Des Moines Astronomical Society. Built in 1983, it is located in Ashton-Wildwood county park near Baxter, Iowa.

Your front yard

You don’t need to go anywhere special to see this unique event since the path of the eclipse passes over central Iowa. Just be safe. Remember, it will appear as if it’s night-time during the eclipse. In Columbia, Missouri, totality will last 2 minutes and 37 seconds. So, imagine if the middle of your day it goes pitch black for two minutes.  

This completely awesome and nerdy calculator from Time Magazine will show you a general idea of what the eclipse will look like from your zip code.

Do you really need the glasses? YES!

“You must never look directly at the Sun without proper protective viewers. NEVER, not for a fraction of a second,” Woolever said.

Regardless of the eclipse, looking directly at the sun can burn your retinas. Woolever says the definition of “proper eyewear” means the viewer needs to meet CE/ISO certification tests. Don’t be fooled into buying bogus glasses. This piece from Forbes.com goes deep into the science and safety of the eclipse if you want to explore more.

Cameras require solar filters to shoot any partial state of the eclipse, and even if a camera has such a filter one must NEVER look through the viewfinder of that camera to aim at the Sun – the harmful risk will be greatly magnified there. Needless to say, looking through a telescope at the solar eclipse is the most dangerous unless it is equipped with a solar filter. 

If you’re hoping to take pictures of the eclipse or look through telescopes or binoculars then you need approved solar filters. Get more information on viewers from space.com here.

Woolever also had the advice that there will be countless images of the eclipse and to focus on enjoying it however you’d like – even if that’s just watching reactions of those around you.

What are you doing with your family for the eclipse?

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