By Charles Fulco
Before I left New York to attend the Solar Eclipse Conference in New Mexico (see posting below), I distributed solar shades (courtesy of Elaine Lewis at NASA) to many of my students who were interested in watching the small partial event that would be visible from the East Coast on October 23rd. While the weather was perfect for us in the southwest, it was unfortunately cloudy and rainy for most back home, but a few fortunate students did catch glimpses of the small notch in the Sun as it set in the west. Luckily, I had mailed several shades to my family members in other parts of the country, and they were able to see the eclipse as well.
Luckily I was traveling with a couple dozen shades as well, so I began giving them out to people I met along my trip—pilots, flight attendants, baggage attendants, rent-a-car employees, my seatmates on the plane. All of them were excited to receive them and if we were outdoors, they immediately began to use them. A couple of sharp-eyed ones saw the huge sunspot grouping that was front and center on the Sun that week—in fact, that was my first time seeing naked-eye sunspots myself.
I left my email address with some of the people I gave glasses to, so they could write back with their views of the eclipse that Thursday. To my delight, I received several emails, all telling me what a wonderful view they had and how thankful I gave them the shades. This warmed my educator’s heart, and also gave me hope that people WILL get pumped up for the big one in 2017. Based on the excitement level of the emails and of those I watched in person using the glasses, I’m now certain that even people who won’t be in the path of totality will still have a rewarding and exciting view of the partial stages.
The photo here was taken in Patagonia at the 2010 total solar eclipse, during the partial stage. You can clearly see the fat crescent of the Sun viewed through my friend’s eclipse glasses. I remember telling those around me to make certain they removed their shades as totality hit. I’ve heard stories of people leaving them on during totality and missing it completely, and I didn’t want that to happen there!
Even those of us in Sunspot, New Mexico watching the eclipse with our scopes and binoculars still found time to glance up using the inexpensive shades. I guess it was the thrill of seeing that amazing sunspot group without magnification, or maybe just the fun of seeing an eclipse using our own eyes, without any optical help. I hope this is the case at every solar eclipse to come, where millions of people, young and old, with nothing more than their solar glasses, will simply go outside and look up, and enjoy the spectacle taking place above them.