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If there were ever an event that the entire family should enjoy together, it is the rare majesty of a total solar eclipse. Solar eclipses are not entirely rare events, but it has been almost 100 years since the last total eclipse transited North America from coast to coast, and it has been almost 40 years since the last time a total eclipse could be viewed from the United States. This makes the 2017 North American eclipse a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. In fact, most of Earth’s citizens have never witnessed a total solar eclipse.
Nearly 10 million people in the United States live in the path of totality. Millions more will travel to that narrow strip of the US where the moon will completely block out the sun for several minutes.
DO NOT look at the sun with your naked eyes. Permanent damage to your eyesight, and even blindness, may result. We have all glanced at the sun, but prolonged exposure causes permanent damage. During an eclipse, when the moon covers a portion of the sun, the intensity of the light remains constant. The ONLY time it is safe to look toward the sun with the naked eye is during the brief period of totality at the height of a total eclipse of the sun.
By far, the easiest way to outfit the entire family for safely viewing a solar eclipse is with very inexpensive solar viewing glasses. These glasses, some with plastic frames, others with paper, have Mylar film lenses that block out 99.999% of visible light, as well as harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation, yet the sun is bright enough that you can see it clearly when you’re wearing them.
Adults may enjoy the plastic lenses of pairs like the Celestron EclipSmart Deluxe kit but, for the little ones, the Celestron Paper Solar Viewing Glasses are much more adjustable, to fit smaller faces. The Lunt Solar Systems glasses come in a convenient 5-pack.
Solar viewing glasses give an unmagnified view of the sun. Interestingly and beautifully, the sun appears to be the same size as the moon in the sky—this is the reason we are treated to the spectacle of the occasional total solar eclipse!
But, if you want to view the sun closer during the eclipse, your next option is solar binoculars. Solar binoculars can be used to view the sun anytime, but will be too dark for viewing anything else unless the filters can be removed, the way they can with the Meade 10x50 EclipseView binoculars. When it comes to outfitting the whole family, Lunt Solar Systems offers a 4-pack that includes one 8x32 SUNocular and three 6x30 mini binoculars. Pop quiz: Does the 8x30 pair go to Mom or Dad… or the kid with the best grades in science? Lunt also offers a 3-pack of 6x30 SUNoculars, as well, in the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue.
For the photographers out there, the 10x binoculars have the equivalent magnification of a 500mm lens. The 8x models are like a 400mm lens, and the 6x binoculars have the magnification of a 300mm lens.
If you want to step up the family solar-eclipse party, a solar telescope might be a great way to get everyone excited about the eclipse. Solar telescopes range in price from not-so-much to sorry-kid-you-aren’t-going-to-college, because some of the scopes are designed for scientific observation of the bright star in the center of our solar system. Like the binoculars and the solar viewing glasses, a solar telescope can be used any day that the sun is overhead—not just on eclipse day.
Some solar scopes, like the Meade EclipseView 114mm f/4 reflector and the 82mm f/3.7 reflector, have tabletop tripods and removable solar filters that allow the heavens to be explored at night, as well. The full-sized tripod and EclipseView 76mm f/9.2 reflector also has a removable filter.
For some more awesome family bonding and for exploring the sun and the nighttime sky, the iOptron Solar 60 60mm f/6 Achro Refractor comes with a GoTo electronic mount that lets a computer locate and track one of more than 14,000 objects in its electronic database. So, on eclipse day, the iOptron will track the sun throughout the eclipse (freeing up your attention to enjoy the sights, or eliminating the frustration of an over-eager observer adjusting the scope too much and losing sight of it completely) and, later that night, you can use it to find distant stars in the heavens above. Additionally, you can remove the iOptron from the GoTo mount and attach a more powerful optical tube assembly for star gazing with the GoTo mount, if you desire.
A total solar eclipse is as family-friendly as any event can be. Having the right gear to share and use with your tribe will make the show even more memorable! Be prepared, be in a good location, protect everyone’s eyesight, and enjoy the show!