With back to school chaos already in full swing, who has time to think about the upcoming eclipse approaching on August 21, 2017? No one. So let me give you some quick information about what is going to happen during the solar eclipse and how you can easily make it safe and fun for kids of all ages.
First of all, I am not a professional astronomer. I did, however, have some college courses many moons ago(see what I did there?), so let me give you a short summary of what is going to happen and why everyone is going space crazy in anticipation. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. During a total solar eclipse, the day turns to darkness for a short time, if you are in the area known as the umbra. For about 2 minutes, to be more exact. The Dallas, TX area is actually in the penumbra, so we can’t expect total darkness, but the day could get dimmer around 1:09 PM when the eclipse is at its maximum. So, our area is experiencing a “partial solar eclipse” with a start time of 11:40 AM and an end time of 2:39 PM. Even though we won’t see the totality of the eclipse locally, there are some fun ways you can help make this a memorable experience for your children.
Build A Pinhole Camera or Projector:
Looking in to an eclipse can damage your light sensitive retinas! Since the retina has no nerves, you can do damage without feeling it. The UV rays are too much for our eyes. Instead, make a pinhole projector with your kids out of old shipping boxes. This easy craft needs a large cardboard box, foil, scissors, tape, a pin and a white sheet of paper.
- First, get a large box (hello, online shopping!). The larger the box, the larger the projection. Ideally, you will want to stick your head in the box so choose a box accordingly. Cut a rectangular hole on one end of the box.
- Cut a piece of foil slightly larger than your rectangular hole. Be sure not to crinkle the foil and keep it as flat as possible. Tape the foil over the hole in the box. Use a pin to poke a hole in your foil.
- Get one sheet of white paper and tape it to the inside of the box, directly opposite of your foil.
- After you have the two pieces in place, cut a hole on an unused side of the box so you can stick your head in it.
During the eclipse, stand with your back to the sun. Put the projector box on your head and face the foil side to the sun. You should be facing the white piece of paper. Then adjust your body until you see an image in the box on the white sheet of paper. The image is a safe, negative image of the solar eclipse and is safe for all eyes. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right away. You have plenty of time to see the eclipse’s negative image.
NASA has an option on how to make an even simpler pinhole camera.
Additionally, you can buy special glasses but be sure they are authentic and ISO 12312-2 safety standard grade glasses. Amazon.com has a great selection from reputable sellers that are guaranteed safe.
Make Fun Space Themed Snacks:
Even if you are overwhelmed with your kids going back to school, you can buy some fun themed snacks to celebrate the day. With candies like Starburst, Milky Way, and Mars bars, you can easily have a quick space snack that you don’t spend a lot of time on. Little Debbie’s Star Crunch or Moon Pies would be amazing sweet pastries to have instead of a candy bar. If gum is your thing, grab some Eclipse or Orbit packages so that moms can even get in on the fun. If you feel particularly energetic, maybe bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes and buy a box of Oreo cookies. Place the cupcakes without icing on a round plate. Then add an Oreo cookie on top with different sized crescents showing the phases of the eclipse. You can have a family sized dessert of a “moon” Oreo eclipsing your “sun” cupcake.
Attend A Solar Eclipse Watch Party:
A few local places are offering eclipse watch parties and even have options including ISO 12312-2 safety standard glasses with admission. The Frontiers of Flight Museum has details about their party here
The Fort Worth Science and History Museum has watch party details here
Perot Museum has an eclipse sleepover party for older kids and their families with registration information here
The Perot Museum also has several free events for watching the eclipse here:
Whatever you end up doing, the next total solar eclipses won’t be seen in the continental United States until April 2024 and August 2045. So make the most of the rare occasion.