Countless articles are warning that you will need special glasses if you plan on looking at the eclipse. Make sure you get the right kind —shameless grifters are apparently repurposing old 3D glasses and trying to pass them off as NASA approved, so be suspicious if yours have a Captain America logo on the side. I found a pair at a local hardware store for under two bucks and was surprised at how flimsy they are. For all the worry about blind woodchucks, I was expecting something a bit more substantial.
Some procedural questions for those of us who already wear glasses: do you duct tape the cardboard ones over your existing specs or shove them underneath? What if you have bifocals? Can I get these in my prescription? Are the disposables biodegradable or will they still be in landfills by the time we go through this again in 2024? Can I get the eclipse pair in those really thick, dark frames that all the hipsters are wearing?
Not peeking may be the safest option, but you can’t hear all the hype about this event and then elect to just stare at your shoes while it is happening. Looking at your feet should at least remind you to make the classic Pinhole Shoebox experiment. This diagram shows how to construct this project. It works exactly as described but should come with a warning— opinions may vary on its effectiveness.
The last eclipse that was visible from the midwest area of the U.S. was in 1994. Chicago wasn’t anywhere near the path of totality so there wasn’t quite the amount of coverage there is now, but it was still in the news. I had been talking it up to my kids (who were nine and four at the time) and perhaps raising expectations for this great event in the sky just a tad more than I should have. Since I was all about Safety First and crafty as hell to boot, we constructed the Pinhole Shoebox as a family project. It was very low-tech but I assured them it was going to work perfectly. They seemed doubtful.
The afternoon of the eclipse found us out on the playground of the elementary school with kids milling about waiting for something momentous to happen. As the time approached, the light started to vaguely dim but it wasn’t as if total darkness fell. It just seemed cloudy. I had the shoebox positioned correctly to catch the light and as the moon moved in front of the sun, a perfect crescent shadow slowly advanced over the white circle that was the sun projected at the back of the box. It looked exactly as Carl Sagan had promised!
The problem with this whole experiment is that it happens inside of a shoebox and the image is about the size of a pencil eraser. You could call it anticlimactic. Others might use the words profoundly underwhelming.
Excitedly I called the kids over to show them that it had worked and they looked baffled. They had imagined something like the stream of light hitting the crystal staff and sending a laser beam through the darkness of the pyramid tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What they got was their mother with her head in a shoebox acting like she had discovered something about the sun that Galileo might have missed. As I handed the box to my daughter so that she, too, could marvel at this astronomical event, I caught the look on her face. It was the dawning realization that this was to be the first of many moments when her up-to-that-point cool mom was actual going to turn out to be the embarrassment of her life. She’d heard about this in the girl’s bathroom but hadn’t expected it to happen this soon. And why was the waist of her jeans so high?!?
Shortly after this, she refused to be picked up from school in the battered old Chevy Chevette I was driving at the time. My advice is don’t try the shoebox experiment with anyone over the age of eight. You’re setting yourself up for humiliation. It’s going to happen eventually, but why add fuel to the fire? And for God’s sake, stop wearing those mom jeans.
Fun fact: Galileo was completely blind by the age of 74. Coincidence? I think not.