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Solar eclipse offers family fun with cautionary note

Lorraine Graves   Aug-16-2017

Physicist Laura Flinn with a device for safe viewing of the Aug. 21 eclipse.

Photo by Chung Chow


It is about 110 times the width of the earth, but have you ever put your thumb up to the sky to cover the sun?

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Just after 10 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Aug. 21, the moon is going to do that for us, well almost.

“We’ll still get 10 per cent of the light peeking around the moon but it’s going to be really dim and the sun will look so cool,” according to Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) physicist Laura Flinn. “We’re getting roughly around 90 per cent totality here.”

Which means it may be dark enough for street lights to come on. It will probably be dimmer than the smoky days Richmond has seen recently.

For our partial solar eclipse, KPU is teaming up with the main Richmond library [Brighouse] to offer free fun for the whole family in the plaza outside in the cultural centre plaza.

The fun comes with a caution; Flinn worries that people might try to look at the sun during the partial eclipse. Doing so can painlessly blind an adult or a child, with symptoms not appearing until later. Doing damage to your eyes with the sun doesn’t hurt but can last a life-time.

Flinn also warns that some of the eclipse viewing glasses available are not certified safe and just using dark glasses or exposed film to filter out some of the light is not enough to save your sight. Trinity Western University (TWU) bought some viewing glasses online. They had the safety seal of approval. But when tested, TWU found the viewing glasses were dangerous to use.

If you want proper sun-viewing glasses, Flinn says the Celestron glasses available at London Drugs have been tested and found safe. Unfortunately, according to Andy Karhmann, of London Drugs, there are only a few left so Karhmann suggests testing any eclipse viewing glasses you may have by following these website instructions at eclipseglasses.com/pages/safety. Some of the rays that hurt your eyes are invisible so you can’t judge safety by how dim the sun seems. Even proper eclipse glasses can have a minute scratch on them allowing damaging solar rays into your child’s eyes or yours.

That’s where the joint KPU and Richmond Library solar eclipse viewing party comes in; it’s a safe way to watch an event that happens a very few times in a life.

Says physicist Flinn: “We will have three hands-on activities.

There will be sunspotters, a tool that the kids can put a piece of paper into and see the sun’s changing shape shine onto it, The attendees can mark exactly what they see, sunspots and all. This way they have something to take home to remember this rare event. Says Flinn, “It’s a chance to use an instrument we actually use in one of our university courses.”

As well, a scale model sun, moon and earth will stretch across the plaza to let attendees experience the relative sizes and run along the amazing distances involved.

And lastly, just as the darkest time approaches, it will offer a show just below all party-goers’ feet in the plaza. Flinn adds: “When the sun is approaching a crescent shape, we’ll tell the kids (and enthusiastic grown-ups) go stand under the trees and they can look down at the shadows caused by the light shining down through the leaves, the gaps in the leaves will act like pinhole cameras so you can see the crescent shape on the ground. You just need a gap to create that effect,” says Flinn, “It’s a nice thing for them to go under the trees right around the plaza.”

For the next few decades, the viewing won’t be as good in Richmond because the few eclipses as dark as this one will occur during the rainy months.


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