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Here’s how you can safely view the annular solar eclipse in Texas this weekend

Alex Potess, left, and Kate Howell view the 2017 partial eclipse of the sun from Butler Park in downtown Austin.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Alex Potess, left, and Kate Howell view the 2017 partial eclipse of the sun from Butler Park in downtown Austin.

This Saturday, many Texans will have the opportunity to see a rare annular eclipse. The moon will move directly between the Earth and the sun, creating a shadow over the Lone Star State.

But don’t look up unless you’re prepared: Protective eclipse glasses are needed to view this event safely.

Judith Meyer, the education and outreach senior program coordinator at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas, joined the Texas Standard to discuss what to expect this weekend.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity: 

Texas Standard: What is the annular eclipse exactly, and how does it differ from the upcoming total solar eclipse?  

Judith Meyer: A couple of ways. The annular eclipse happens when the moon, on its orbit around the Earth, is at a farther point from the Earth than average. And so it doesn’t completely cover up the disk of the sun.

And so folks who are in the line of annularity – and there’s a path of annularity; you’ve probably seen a map – will be able to see the moon in the middle of the disk of the sun and this ring of fire, and it’ll be the sun around the disk of the moon. So it’s exciting to see. I’ve never seen one, and I’m excited to get to see one myself.

NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison; eclipse calculations by Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Now, how are you going to watch it? Since you’re at the observatory are you going to be looking through that great big telescope? Are you going to go outside?  

At McDonald Observatory, it will not be the big telescopes that are pointing at the sun. Those are nighttime telescopes, and they’re not ready for the kind of light the sun gives off.

We are going to have some telescopes pointing at the sun, and they’ll be safe to look through because they will have proper solar filters. And that’s super, super important because during this eclipse event, nobody should look straight at the sun, ever.

» MORE: Here’s where you can see both upcoming solar eclipses in Texas

Let’s talk about this in a little bit more detail, because I know I’ve seen some – they look almost like 3D glasses, but they’re not; you should not use 3D glasses – specially designed glasses as they’re marketed, and they usually go for about $3, $5, something like that. Those, I presume, are effective. How do you know? 

If you have a pair of eclipse glasses or glasses that claim to be safe to look at the sun, the first thing you would want to do is check them and make sure there aren’t any pinholes in them.

The next thing you want to do is look at the back, and it should say somewhere it meets the requirements of ISO 12312-2. Now, it really helps if you get your eclipse glasses from a really reputable source, and that’s probably your best bet.

But we also have what we call eclipse viewers. So it’s got that same material in it, but the window is an inch high and about three inches long. And it turns out those are easier to use if, for example, you’re already wearing glasses – you can just hold them in front of your eyes. They’re easier to share because you don’t have to fiddle with taking them on and off. So you’ll find both those eclipse glasses and eclipse viewers here and there.

What time of day are we talking about when you can start to look and see the process occur?

Well, it depends on where you are. Folks in the farthest, the earliest, part of where it’s going to get to Texas, you get a partial eclipse starting at about 10:15. That would be up near Hobbs, like right at the New Mexico border. Because the path of the annular eclipse crosses Texas, starting at the corner of the New Mexico border.

The path goes right through Midland-Odessa. Then it goes down, and it goes just a little southwest of San Antonio, the center part of the path. San Antonio itself is in the path. Then, the center of the path goes right out through Corpus Christi.

 And, of course, if you miss the annular eclipse, there’s a very big event coming up in the spring, right? 

Oh, my goodness, yes. April 8th, the path of a total solar eclipse crosses Texas, and it crosses in at about Laredo. And it crosses through the western part of San Antonio; most of Austin gets in the path of this one, much of Dallas, Fort Worth. And we’re kind of thinking about the annular eclipse as a warm-up act for the total eclipse.

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