Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar Eclipse: 5/20/12

On Sunday there was a solar eclipse visible in the United States and around the world. I hope all of you managed to get a look at it, I know I did.
This was the first time in my life that I actually witnessed a solar eclipse for my self, and while amazing, it wasn't nearly as spectacular here in Iowa as it was elsewhere in the world. I still took pictures though.
The best picture of the solar eclipse that I could get through eclipse glasses.

 Sun without eclipse glasses

In Iowa City, the eclipse was partial, so it was still extremely bright and getting a quality photo was difficult. Others did a far better job than I.
Eclipse over Yokohama near Tokyo. Taken by Koji Sasahara.

Eclipse over Gardnerville, Nevada. Taken by Cathleen Allison.

 Eclipse over Irving, Texas. Taken by Tony Gutierrez.

In comparison, my pictures are mediocre at best. All in all though, I'm glad I got the chance to be a part of this.

With any partial eclipse, there is still too much light getting in from the sun to make it safe to look at directly, so inventive measures must be taken in order to even get a glimpse of the event. In pictures like the one from Texas, the sun has already begun to set, which means that there is enough atmosphere between the sun and the observer to allow pictures to be taken. Like the picture from Nevada, it is also possible to view the eclipse through a storm cloud without injury, but how can we view the eclipse if we aren't fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time? It's actually fairly easy, you can buy special glasses, or use the "pinhole" technique.
There exist special "eclipse glasses" that are heavily tinted to allow the user to safely view the sun. Normal sunglasses aren't strong enough to keep an observer safe, in fact, very few things are. Even minimal exposure to intense sunlight can cause permanent blindness. Because of this, eclipse glasses are so opaque that the only thing you can see through them is the sun.
One of the few safe ways to directly view the sun.

The other common technique for viewing solar eclipses is indirect. It is called the "pinhole" technique. Basically, you can look at the sun through an extremely small hole because not enough light will get through to obscure the image or cause any damage. Usually pictures are taken through something called a pinhole lens that uses this method, the pinholes are often too small for humans to see through. If we aren't taking a picture of the sun, then light can be shown through the pinhole onto a piece of paper to get a "shadow" of the eclipse.
 What a pinhole eclipse "shadow" can look like.

 What it the pinhole shadow looked like when I tried it.

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