Eyes & Outreach: Teaching Eclipse Science in Micronesia
by Exploratorium Staff • March 4, 2016
Before heading to the Micronesian atoll of Woleai, from where an Exploratorium crew will broadcast the total solar eclipse, two of our staff members spent five days teaching on the island of Yap, which is along the path of the eclipse and about 400 miles away from Woleai.
Exploratorium Senior Staff Scientist Paul Doherty and Museum Experience Director Robyn Higdon arrived on Yap flush with solar viewing glasses. That’s because the two hosts of the Exploratorium’s upcoming broadcast were on a mission “to save eyes and help people have a great experience,” Paul said.
Because the retina lacks pain receptors—and because a partially covered sun isn’t strong enough to cause the typical eye-squinting aversion response—your brain can’t sense the potential danger and will allow you to look right at the partial eclipse. But you shouldn’t: though the partially covered sun is less bright than usual, it’s still bright enough to burn your retina and damage the eye.
Educating the local community about solar eclipses is an integral part of the Exploratorium’s global eclipse expeditions. In Yap, Paul and Robyn distributed solar viewing glasses and taught more than 250 school children about how to safely view an eclipse. They’ll do the same when they arrive in Woleai.
The rules are pretty simple: Do not look at the partial eclipse. Do look at totality. Totality is the only time when it is safe to look at the sun without eye protection.
Of course, if you’re wearing the special solar viewing glasses or using one of many simple techniques to project the partial eclipse, you can still get a good image.
(Photo by Paul Doherty)
Paul and Robyn also taught students how they could eclipse a friend’s face by holding a thumb near one eye, similarly to how the smaller moon can cover the larger sun because it is close to Earth. They also led students through an exercise that modeled the scale and distance of the Earth and moon.
“When we showed each class the scale model of the Earth-moon system they all gasped at how far away the moon was from the Earth,” Paul said.