Plumas and Lassen counties will be among the best seats in the house May 20 to view the first annular solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 1994. A solar eclipse occurs only during a new moon when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, casting a shadow toward the earth. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is farther out in its orbit around the earth, making the moon appear slightly smaller than the sun, which creates a ring of sunlight around the edge. The center line of the eclipse path passes right through northeastern California, from Crescent City to Hallelujah Junction.
Events celebrating the eclipse
How to view a solar eclipse
When deciding where to head to catch the annular eclipse May 20, consider the location’s western exposure. Because the sun’s coverage will be at its maximum right around sunset, aim for an area with a clear view to the western horizon.
Next, remember to never, ever look at the sun directly with bare eyes, or through binoculars or a telescope without filters specifically designed for solar viewing. Do not view through exposed film, which does not block harmful rays. Doing so can cause permanent damage to your eyes. Taking a photo of the sun can cause corresponding damage to the camera unless the correct filters are used.
Special glasses that block most light and all harmful rays are available for viewing astronomical phenomena, or use a welding shield.
But you can also use a homemade viewer to watch the silhouette of the moon move over the face of the sun: a pinhole projector.
Here’s the concept (as long as the sky is relatively clear): When shining through a tiny pinhole, the sun will cast a bright circle onto a clean white surface. During a solar eclipse, either complete or annular, our view of the sun’s face is obscured by the moon’s shadow. At the same time, the bright circle — which, unlike the sun, is perfectly safe to stare at — will also show the progress of the moon’s shadow.
Here are two methods for setting up a projector:
Find a long skinny cardboard box, or tape two together (if doing this, make sure to use opaque tape to block all ambient light). At least 6 feet long is best.
At one end of the box, cut a hole. Tape aluminum foil over the hole, and then make a tiny hole in the foil with a pin or needle.
Cut open a viewing hole on the side of the box toward the other end, so it is easy to see the inside surface of the box that is directly opposite the pinhole surface.
Tape a piece of white paper over that interior surface.
Now aim the projector at the sun. Be careful not to look directly at the sun while doing this; use the box’s shadow to help position it. A round bright circle will be cast through the pinhole onto the white paper.
The farther apart the pinhole surface and clean white surface are, the larger the sun’s projected image will be. But if you don’t come across a long box, you can still make a projector with two pieces of cardboard.
Cut a hole in one piece of cardboard, cover it with aluminum foil, and poke a tiny hole in the foil. Tape a piece of white paper to the other piece of cardboard.
Put the white piece on the ground, and position the pinhole piece above it until you see the bright white circle appear. Reach as high as possible to maximize the effect.
For more information, and instructional photos, visit exploratorium.edu/eclipse/how.html.
May 20: A fundraiser for Gold Digger Days, Bingo Before the Eclipse will feature a “Ring of Fire” game. Games begin at 2 p.m. in the Greenville Town Hall. Cash prizes are 50/50. For information, call 284-6633.
May 20: Amateur astronomer and lecturer Robert Whalen presents telescope viewing of solar eclipse at the Plumas-Eureka State Park ski hill parking lot. Before entering Graeagle on Highway 89 from the north, turn right onto Johnsville Road at the Graeagle Fros-Tee. The road continues past the state park, through Johnsville and up some winding turns before reaching the parking area. The event will start at 5:45 p.m. and end at 6:45. A thin cloud covering will not affect visual acuity, but precipitation will cancel the viewing and lecture. The moon will be completely within the circle of the sun, covering 94 percent of it. Viewers should be able to see “Bailey’s Beads,” a momentary band of bright “pearls” at the edge of the moon, and sunspot magnetic storms. A special top quality telescope will be used. Be prepared for chilly weather. A restroom is available at the state park ranger station. Questions are welcome at the event.
Lassen Volcanic National Park:
May 20: Lassen Volcanic National Park will have a special astronomy program at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. followed by eclipse viewing from 5 p.m. to sunset. Rangers will lead viewing at the Devastated Area, and at the Bumpass Hell parking lot. The maximum eclipse will occur around 6:30 p.m.; about 95 percent of the sun’s face will be obscured. The Lassen Association bookstore will have solar shades available for purchase.
May 20: The Portola High School astronomy class hosts an evening of fun in celebration of the eclipse. Doors to the Willie Tate Memorial Gym open at 5 p.m., and the first presentation begins at 5:30. Dinner and eclipse viewing follow immediately on the baseball field. Tickets for $5 buy a slice of pizza, solar viewing glasses and “stellar” presentations. Additional pizza is $2 per slice. The culinary arts class will sell drinks and desserts separately. Bring blankets, chairs, binoculars and bug spray if desired for outdoor viewing. A silent auction will offer chances to name a star, planet, comet or moon. Additional presentations and talks followed by stargazing around 8 p.m. Activities for children available throughout the evening (parents must be present).
Near Richmond Road:
May 20: Through its “Discover Lassen County” series, Lassen Land and Trails Trust invites the public to a special viewing party for the first annular eclipse to take place in the mainland United States since May 10, 1994. The event will be held 6 – 7:30 p.m. at the Lassen Creek Conservation Area off of Richmond Road. LLTT will provide viewing glasses and information about the astronomical occurrence. Ellie Orbeton and Bill Faatz will provide guidance. Children must be supervised by an adult. Viewing is free, but reservations are required: call 257-3252 or visit llttweb.org.
May 18: A free pre-eclipse star party will be held at the Sparks Marina. Take I-80 east, exit McCarran, turn right on Nichols Boulevard. Free parking is available to the north and south of the roundabout. The address is 300 Howard Drive.
May 19: Free astronomy talk about the coming eclipse held 2 – 3 p.m. at the Nevada Historical Society at 1650 North Virginia St. Call (775) 688-1190. Free parking available nearby.
May 20: A free annular solar eclipse event is set for 5 – 7 p.m. at the MacLean Observatory on the Redfield Campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, 18600 Wedge Parkway in southwest Reno. The maximum eclipse, weather permitting, will be visible from 6:28 to 6:33 p.m. Everyone is invited and welcome to bring a picnic dinner; food and beverages are available for purchase at nearby restaurants. No alcoholic beverages are allowed on campus. Viewing glasses available for purchase. The Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center host the event, in partnership with the Astronomical Society of Nevada, the Nevada Historical Society and KNPB Channel 5. A partnership with Silver Legacy offers special lodging discounts; visit eclipsereno.unr.edu/Visitors.html for more information.
Every Saturday night, telescopes are available for stargazing at Lassen Volcanic National Park from 9 to 10 p.m. Astronomy programs are also presented each Wednesday from 9 p.m. at the Devastated Area until Aug. 8.
The Transit of Venus will be visible June 5 from most of North America. The planet will be seen as a tiny black speck moving across the face of the sun — don’t forget to use solar viewing glasses! A pinhole projector will also work, but the phenomenon will not be nearly as easy to see as the eclipse. Lassen Volcanic National Park will have solar scopes available.
The “Dark Sky Festival” at Lassen Volcanic National Park Aug. 10 – 13 includes astronomy-themed hikes, workshops, activities, guest speakers, stargazing and a junior ranger program.
The stunning Perseid meteor shower will peak during the nights of Aug. 12 and 13, little dimmed by the crescent moon. The best show will be in the wee hours of the morning.
Planning a cruise? A total solar eclipse — in which the shadow of the moon will completely cover the face of the sun — will occur Nov. 13. But it will only be visible from northern Australia and the South Pacific.
The next eclipse visible from North America, another total solar eclipse, falls on Aug. 21, 2017, in a band stretching diagonally from Oregon to North Carolina.
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