Get ready for the eclipse, and do it right

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Believe it or not, the best viewing shades are available at Wal-Mart. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN COUNTY – Folks are preparing for the first total solar eclipse to traverse the continental United States since 1918, and Cullman isn’t too far off the mark.

If you travel just as far as Nashville, Murfreesboro, or places a little north of Chattanooga, you will be in the “zone of totality” (100 percent coverage by the moon’s shadow) where, for a brief moment, the sky will go midnight dark: enough for other stars to become visible.  The sun’s corona will be visible as a ring of fire around the moon as it passes directly between the sun and earth.

Viewers in Cullman County will see approximately 95 percent coverage.  Those who commute to work in Huntsville will see about 97 percent coverage, and those down around Birmingham will see around 93 percent.

The eclipse will begin almost exactly at noon, central time.  It will reach maximum coverage for north Alabama viewers around 1:30 p.m., and will conclude about 2:57 p.m.  Around Cullman, the midday sky will remain blue, but will darken to an early dawn/dusky hue during the height of the eclipse.

Wherever you are, be safe

Whether you go to Tennessee to stand in the zone of totality or just take a few minutes out of your day here to catch the partial view, the same safety rule applies: do not look at the sun without eye protection!  In the zone of totality, you will be able to drop the shades for a couple of minutes; but in any location in Alabama, you will need to protect your eyes at all times.

For direct viewing of the sun, wearable sun shades are the easiest answer, but there’s a catch.  Sunglasses will not work, and your 3D movie glasses will not work, and, sadly, many of the advertised eclipse sun shades will not work, either.  Overseas manufacturers have flooded the U.S. market with so-called eclipse viewing shades that are nothing more than disposable sunglasses. 

Have you already bought shades?  Here’s how to find out if they are good: put them on and look at the brightest bare light bulb in your house.  The brightest artificial light should still not be bright enough to penetrate true sun shades.  If you can see that bulb through the shades, they are fakes.  Don’t use them during the eclipse; permanent damage to your vision can result.

With so many dealers selling shades on Amazon and Ebay, how are you supposed to know which ones to buy?  Happily, the answer couldn’t be easier.  American Paper Optics, which manufactures legitimate sun shades recommended by numerous authorities, distributes its shades through Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.  Better yet, they’re only a dollar a pair, and you’ll also find eclipse viewing guides in the same display rack.  So don’t worry about Amazon and Ebay; shipping would probably take too long, anyway.

The next total eclipse that will be visible over the continental U.S. will occur Apr. 8, 2024; but the zone of totality will not come close to Alabama.  On Oct. 14, 2023 an annular eclipse, in which the moon is a little further from the earth and does not completely cover the sun, will pass over the western U.S.  Next week’s eclipse is the most convenient viewing opportunity Cullmanites will have for a very long time.  So be sure to watch, be safe, and enjoy the show.

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