Preparing for the Solar Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the United States is in for a celestial treat!  The Moon is going to pass between the Sun and the Earth.  For part of the United States along the Path of Totality, the Moon will completely block the Sun for about two minutes and 40 seconds although the Moon will be partially blocking the sun for a much longer period.  Find the time and duration for your city at

The Path of Totality is approximately 70 miles wide and is going to be a path that includes parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  Because the Earth rotates about an axis, the exact timing of totality for any given city or location is going to be different.  Lincoln Beach, Oregon will be the first to experience totality at 10:16 am PDT and Charleston, South Carolina will be the last to experience totality at approximately 2:48 pm EDT.

The last total solar eclipse viewable from the contiguous U.S. was in 1979.  Solar eclipses occur on average once every 18 months.  But, because of the shape Moon’s orbit about the Earth, the Moon’s position relative to the Sun and the Earth changes, affecting the specific location and duration of the solar eclipse.  Because they do not occur in the same location, a solar eclipse seems like a rare event, and for specific locations like Dallas, Texas it may be 400 years between total solar eclipses.  (The next scheduled total eclipse viewable from Dallas will be predicted to be April 8, 2024, and the last one was Oct. 23, 1623.)  While conversely, Denver, Colorado had a total eclipse on July 29, 1878, and will see another one on Aug. 12, 2045, which is only 167 years apart.

What will you see?  First, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN, as the Sun’s intensity can damage the eye.  But, there are many other ways to watch the event.  Special viewing glasses are available at viewing events or ordering them online.  These glasses are designed to filter out the harmful rays to allow for safe viewing.   There are indirect ways to view the event as well.  (Here is a link to the NASA Safety webpage

You can build a solar viewer, which is essentially a pinhole projector. This can be done by using a piece of paper, cardboard or cardstock.  Make a tiny hole with a needle, straight pin, or thumb tack.  The hole should be round and smooth.  With your back towards the Sun, hold the piece of paper with the hole and project the image of the Sun onto another sheet of paper or concert (this is your screen).  The size of the image will be dependent upon the distance between the paper and your screen. (  Caught without a piece of paper?  The leaves of a tree can act as your pinhole view as well as use laced fingers.  Using fingers or leaves, you are likely to get multiple images of the event.  You can build a pinhole camera viewer as well, see With the viewer, you may be able to film the event with your phone camera.  The key here is to watch the event safely.

Want more details about the eclipse?  You can go to NASA’s eclipse website:  It has links to maps and other information about this upcoming event.

NOTE:  A version of this post will appear in the Midweek of the Ponca City News on August 9, 2017.


Happy New Year – Return to Normal?

Frosty Field

All of us have this definition of normal.  With the holidays completed, there is this sense that we are going to return to normal.  But, what is that?  Really, what we are saying is that we are returning to that ordinary state of routine.  For families with children, this means that we are returning to a school routine.

January is also a time when we reassess our school year goals and set some new goals as well.  So, what are your goals for the remainder of winter and into spring?  Have you though about adding some science activities?  January is actually a great time to look at your science curriculum.

The homeschooling catalogs will be coming out soon.  So, it is a great time to start thinking.  But, there are other resources that come out during January.  Here are some good ones to start your creative juices flowing:


Sky and Telescope has come out with their 2015 Observing Calendars and Information.  There are other sites as well – the Sea and Sky has their Celestial Events Calendar  out as well as Stargazing Tonight.

Science Fairs

It is time to think about those science fair projects (if you haven’t already started).  The International Science and Engineering Fair is in May – and students are required to participate in qualifying fairs.  You can find information about affiliated science fairs here. Many local fairs are in February – so if  you haven’t found your dates – it is time to look.

Global Science Events

Every year there are a number of scientific and medical meetings held around the world.  And while, they may not be directed toward you and your family personally, many of these meetings have auxiliary events.  For example, the American Chemical Society which will be meeting in Denver in March and in Boston in August usually supports a science activity for families and school children as part of their meeting.  Thus, looking to see if one of these events is coming to your area may inspire an activity or a lesson plan.  You can find one listing of Science Events here.

Weather and Climate

In addition to astronomy, there is also sky watching as related to weather, clouds, climate, etc.  Winter is a great time to look for the Aurora Borealis – you can find the forecast for viewing here. Of course there are a number of sites that follow weather – there is the and  These should provide you with lots of activities.

Check out the Calendar

Earth Science Week  – has extended their celebration to the entire year.  National Engineering Week is February 22-28, 2015 and information can be found here.  Earth Day is April 22 and many professional societies have activities planned.  Pi Day is March 14 and this year is special because of the year.  (You might also search STEM activities – UCF is holding a STEM Day on Jan. 30, 2015, and STEM Saturdays are being held at Northern Illinois University. There are a host of other Colleges and Universities that are doing STEM outreach – so checking your local community college, or other higher learning institution may also provide you with inspiration.)

Finally, watch the museum and library calendars you never know what might turn up there.