On Monday, Aug. 21, millions of people across America will turn their eyes toward the sun to experience a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience – a total solar eclipse.
Although Cayman is not in the path of the full eclipse, a partial one will be visible from here. In Cayman, viewers will be able to see the moon block out 55 percent of the sun.
Bill Hrudey, who runs the observatory named after him at the University College of the Cayman Islands, has teamed up with the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society and Dart charity Minds Inspired to host an eclipse viewing event at the university.
Minds Inspired has bought 500 pairs of viewing glasses to ensure that those who gaze at the sun can do so safely. Staring directly at the sun, even if it is partially blocked by the moon, can be extremely harmful to the eyes.
The Astronomical Society will be erecting a solar telescope in the parking lot of the university.
Richard McLeod of the Astronomical Society said, “Our members will be there helping with giving out the glasses and we will have one solar telescope outside so people can look safely through a telescope.”
Meanwhile, inside the observatory, Dr. Hrudey’s two solar telescopes will be in position to capture the eclipse.
“We’ll have two different telescopes [in the observatory] with different wavelengths, so you can see the sun from two different angles,” Dr. Hrudey said.
One of those telescopes will use a hydrogen 1 alpha spectrum filter, through which flares and flames on the sun can be viewed. The other telescope will be using white light, a very dark neutral density filter, through which sun spots on the surface of the sun can be seen. Simultaneous projections from the telescopes will be transmitted to the screens in classrooms at the university.
Dr. Hrudey said if there are high-standard real-time views available on the internet, those may also be screened.
The eclipse viewing event coincides with a three-day STEM summer camp for high school students at the university.
Even though he spends much of his time these days studying the sun from his second-floor observatory at UCCI, Dr. Hrudey has seen only one total eclipse, and a few partials. “If you get a chance to see an eclipse, especially a total eclipse, that’s good stuff,” he said.
In Cayman, the partial eclipse will be visible from 12:38 p.m. until 3:26 p.m., with the maximum of 55 percent obscuration occurring at 2:07 p.m.
Experts are warning people not to attempt to view the eclipse without protective eye wear, as doing so can cause serious harm to eyes. Dr. Hrudey said that warning applies to people who are planning to use binoculars and telescopes – “Cameras too, if you’re looking through the viewfinder,” he said. “Don’t do it. There’s a lot of energy in the sun and you can really damage your eyes.”
He points out three safe options to view the sun – through protective glasses; through the highest standard of welding glass; or through projection techniques, for example, the pinhole in a shoebox method.
Glenda McTaggart of Minds Inspired said the glasses her organization bought can be used by anyone who goes to the observatory to view the celestial phenomenon safely. Minds Inspired is also donating glasses to students from Clifton Hunter’s Astronomy Club, who will be traveling to the U.S. to witness the total eclipse.
“Our Minds Inspired program, at the high school level, is focused on promoting math and science and therefore we had no hesitation in assisting this event by sponsoring glasses. We also have a connection with the CI Astronomical Society and have assisted them with events in the past,” said Ms. McTaggart, who will be traveling to the U.S. to see the total eclipse for herself.
She will be among the millions to experience the “Great American Eclipse,” touted as one of the biggest celestial events of the century, in part because the total eclipse will be visible across the width of America, over large populated areas.
Dr. Hrudey and the Astronomical Society, at this point, are not sure how much interest there is locally in the partial eclipse, but they are preparing for however many show up on the day.
In June 5, 2012, the team hosted a viewing of the “Transit of Venus” at a rooftop at Camana Bay. They were expecting a handful of enthusiasts, but hundreds turned up to get a look at the planet via telescopes and video screens as it passed in front of the sun.
“It’s anyone’s guess,” Dr. Hrudey said of the number of people who will attend UCCI during the eclipse.