Scientist preparing for one of nature’s grandest spectacles

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Even though East Texas isn’t in what is described as “the path of totality” for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, NASA and other experts in the field of astronomy are issuing warnings about viewing it.

Paul Shaw, event coordinator for the Astronomical Society of East Texas, provided a release from NASA about the unusual event in 12 days.

“The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewers,” the release states. Both the Mineola Memorial Library and the Quitman Public Library have pairs of these for special eye protection. They look like 3D glasses from the movie theater.

Shaw gave perspective about why the glasses are necessary. He said that welder’s glasses are certified at shades of 7 or 10. “You need a 14 plus welders lenses to see this,” he said.

The NASA release states that as of the date of its issuance, five manufacturers have certified that their eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers meet the ISO 123 12-2 international standard for such products – American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.

They caution everyone to inspect their glasses before using them for scratches and if they are scratched, to discard them. They also advise not to view the eclipse through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device. They also say not to look through these devices while using eclipse glasses – the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury.

An alternate method for safe viewing is to cross your outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the slightly outstretched open fingers of the other hand. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.

Shaw said that in Wood County there will be around a 79 or 80 percent coverage of the sun. “It won’t be a complete eclipse here. If you can imagine, it will be a crescent sun in the sky because of the moon.” He said that in Mineola it will start about 11:45 a.m. and will reach its maximum coverage of 80 percent at about 1:13 p.m. and the moon will break from the sun at 2:44 p.m.

Shaw said the last time there was a solar eclipse viewable in East Texas was in 1979. But, there will be another solar eclipse in 2024 “and it’s going to be right on top of us.”

For Shaw, whose master’s degree is in earth science physics, the significance of a solar eclipse can’t be underestimated.

“People here aren’t going to get to experience the darkness, the thing that has caused wars and ended wars, caused people to question their spirituality or to think the earth’s time clock is coming to an end,” Shaw said.

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