From the President...

President's Perspective May 2012

Its finally here! The event we have all been waiting for, the annular solar eclipse!

By now, I am sure all of you know that we will be having an annular solar eclipse, very visible in Reno, on Sunday, May 20th. The ASN has partnered with the Planetarium, KNPB TV, the Nevada Historical Society, and a couple of other groups to host an 'official viewing' at the MaClean Observatory in UNR's Redfield Campus. Although there are some members-only activities, this event is generally open to the public. And the latest estimates peg more than 1,000 people showing up at this venue to see the eclipse!

Before delving into the details as known, I want to emphasize safe viewing of the eclipse. I am reasonably sure that everyone here knows you cannot directly look at the sun without a proper viewing aid. Doing so would risk permanently damaging your eyesight. This is the number 1 point we all need to drive home to people wishing to view the eclipse.

Viewing aids for solar observing generally fall into three classes-- 1.) Optical filters that allow direct observation of the sun, 2.) Projection devices that project an image of the sun onto a viewing screen of some sort, and 3.) Telescopes properly equipped with solar filters. Let's look at these methods a little more closely.

Number 1, Optical filters that allow direct observation of the sun. The solar glasses we are handing out are an example of this kind of device. These are the easiest way to view the sun, and they give an image limited only by the visual acuity of the user. But they have to be manufactured, and that takes time and money. They also give a small image of the sun. But that said, this is how the vast majority if the public will see this eclipse. Solar viewers are available from Jim Fahey, the Planetarium, Sierra Safari Zoo, and several other places. I carry some around pretty much all the time now, and sell a few here and there. Other officers are doing this as well, and indeed, every ASN member should avail themselves of a few to sell to family, friends, etc. The ASN price for these has been $2 each, or 5 for $5, (Hint, come to Tuesday night's meeting!)

Number 2, projection devices. These are easy to make, and can give a very satisfying view of the sun. The best ones can give an excellent image for a group of viewers. They are also good for casual sun observers who aren't serious enough to invest in a solar telescope. In the interest of simplicity, I point out these devices are simple pinhole cameras. Or 'camera obscuras', the Italian term we get the word 'camera' from. The simplest form of such a viewer is a card of some sort with a pinhole, and a second card (or screen, or ground glass) to project the image onto. Use is simple. Find the sun, and cause the pinhole card to project its image on the viewing card or screen. Adjust the orientation and spacing of the two cards to line up the light passing through through the pinhole for the best image. Although the club had talked about making a bunch of them on the day of the eclipse, this was ruled out by a number of factors. If you like these kinds of viewers, make several and bring them to the eclipse. Plan on giving them away!

Number 3, telescopes properly equipped with solar filters. Although this is a very logical choice for viewing the sun, it is not the best choice for this event. The eclipse is most amazing when viewed directly (as in number 1) or in a projection device. There will be little to see in a telescope to improve the view (and this is even more true of a total solar eclipse). This is why we are not emphasizing bringing telescopes to the event. A few of us will be bringing 'scopes (and the club H-alpha solar telescope will be there), and that will be sufficient. And these 'scopes will be used mainly to view to sun for prominences, sunspots, etc. before and after the annular part.

And that brings up an interesting point: Many people will want to take pictures of the eclipse with their cameras. One of the best ways to do this with a simple camera (like a phone camera) is to hold a solar viewer over the camera's lens and photograph through that. ASN is planning to purchase some of the Mylar material used in the solar viewers for professional cameras, like those the news media will be using. If any is left over, it will be available on a first come, first-served basis to ASN members. If people are really interested in having some of this material for their camera, please let me know (preferably by coming to the meeting!) so we can order enough. A donation of a few dollars would be appreciated, as it turns out this material is not cheap (about $80 a square foot).

Finally onto the actual event! I am not going to try and cover a lot of details here about what is going on. Refer to the Planetarium's website for a more complete rundown. But I will try and give some details for those who would like to volunteer to help (and we will need volunteers!). First of all, there will be free ASN baseball caps available to the first 12 people who volunteer to help. These caps will serve to identify who is operating in an official capacity at this event. So if you wear one, be prepared to be asked a lot of questions.

We are asking volunteers to show up at about 3 PM to set up tables, telescopes, and other things. The event officially opens to the public at 5 PM, although we expect people to start showing up well before that. Before the annularity of the eclipse, there is no no official program, just folks interested in the eclipse, and I am sure, astronomy as well. There will be numerous activities to occupy peoples' time until the eclipse begins.

The eclipse begins about 5:30 PM. The annular phase begins about 6:28 PM, and everyone will be paying attention to this part of the eclipse! (We have also worked out where the sun will be in the sky at the time of the eclipse, and the one place you will NOT want to be is in the observatory area itself, as the building will block the view of the eclipse there.)

About 7 PM, the dinner begins. This is primarily for members of the ASN, the Planetarium, and KNPB TV. There is a cost associated with this dinner ($39, $49 for nonmembers) as this is a fund-raiser for KNPB TV. During the dinner, Dean Regas of the PBS TV series 'Stargazers' will be speaking. Dean is a great presenter, and this dinner should be well worth its cost! By 8:30, everything will be over, and we will be packing up and cleaning up. (We don't have to worry too much about the dinner, except for set-up and take-down of tables and chairs.)

In any case, plan on a long, fun and memorable day seeing an astronomical event that many of us will not see again in our lifetimes!

If you are interested in helping PLEASE try and attend the member's meeting on Tuesday. Much of the meeting will be spent going over preparations for the eclipse event. This will be the biggest event the club has done since the closest approach of Mars back in August of 2003. In fact, this should be bigger than even that event, and will probably rank in the top two or three events the club has ever hosted!

Plans are also in the works for covering the transit of Venus across the Sun on June 5th. This will not be near as big an event, and we are still putting together details about our plans for this event. I hope to have more details in my next column, due out before the transit.

In the meantime, keep looking down...into your eyepiece!

Category: President