I have never seen a total eclipse. However, I have seen many partial solar eclipses, including the annular eclipse that passed over the Four Corners in 2012. I find them all enjoyable, especially when I am in a position to share the experience.
Once the moon starts passing in front of the sun, it will take about an hour to reach maximum coverage. In Durango, that coverage will be just over 80 percent at 11:42 a.m. The world will look darker than normal, but if you are not paying attention, it may not be noticeable.
You shouldn’t look directly at the sun because it is bright enough to damage your eyes. But this shouldn’t be much of a problem in Durango because the sun will be so bright that it is hard to look at.
Dozens of low-cost, safe eclipse viewers are available online, such as those offered by Thousand Oaks. Homemade options exist, but the problem with these is that they might block enough visible light, but not block the infrared and ultraviolet light that can cause long-term damage to your eyes.
If you haven’t been able to obtain an eclipse viewer, the easiest way to observe the eclipse is with the pinhole projection method. Make a tiny hole in a piece of paper and hold it in the sunlight. The paper will make a shadow and the sun a small bright spot where the sun shines through the hole. During the eclipse, the bright spot becomes a little crescent shape on the ground. The farther away the hole is from the ground, the larger the image will be. I have heard of people using a cheese grater or something else with lots of little holes to make multiple eclipse images. One of my most memorable partial eclipses was when the trees filtered out most but not all direct sunlight. There were thousands of places that sunlight filtered through the leaves and therefore thousands of tiny crescents on the ground.
If you happen to make the trip to the path of totality, you should be in for a treat. There is a tremendous range of brightness within the visible corona, and fortunately, human eyes are particularly good at detecting such variations. I am planning to make the drive to eastern Wyoming where there will be some high-altitude balloon launches studying various effects of the eclipse.
This monthBesides the solar eclipse, there are plenty of other things of interest in the August sky.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend. However, in spite of some amazing predictions circulating on social media, this year probably won’t be as good as last year. There will be a rather bright waning gibbous moon that will mask many of the dimmer meteors that would otherwise be visible.
The nights around the solar eclipse should be the best for summer stargazing. Because they are the days closest to the new moon, the nights will have the least amount of extra light. Be sure to let your eyes adequately adjust to the dark to take full advantage of any clear nights you might have. On one of these dark nights, try to see some structure in the Milky Way. Some parts are definitely brighter than others, and some of the darker-looking regions are actually being obscured by interstellar clouds.
Venus, now as the morning star, is typically visible during the daytime. During the eclipse, it will likely be even more obvious. It will be just over 30 degrees to the west of the sun. Jupiter, an evening planet in the west, might be visible during the eclipse just over the southeastern horizon.
The Powerhouse Science Center is planning an eclipse party on the morning of Aug. 21. That would be a good place to experience the event with other enthusiasts and to share your own enthusiasm.
Charles Hakes teaches in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is the director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.