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Eclipse Events Planned in McKeesport, West Mifflin; Caution Urged

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
August 18, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

If you're a Mon-Yough resident and you want to experience a total eclipse of the sun on Monday, you'd better get a good night's sleep on Sunday.

Based on Google Maps, the closest community to McKeesport that will see the sun fully blocked by the moon appears to be Niota, Tenn., just off Interstate 75 between Chattanooga and Knoxville. If you want to go, plan to hit the road by 5 a.m. Monday --- Niota is about 8 hours and 37 minutes away, and the maximum eclipse will hit the community of 723 people at approximately 2:32 p.m. Eastern daylight time.

(And if you are hitting the road, the Federal Highway Administration has a list of tips and travel warnings you should read first.)

In our area, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the eclipse will begin to become visible at 1:10 p.m. McKeesport time and reach its maximum --- about 81 percent from our perspective --- at 2:35 p.m. The eclipse will end about 3:55.

Locally, the Carnegie Library of McKeesport will have an eclipse party on the lawn of the main library, 1507 Library Ave., on Monday afternoon, with light refreshments served and glasses provided. For more information, call (412) 672-0625.

West Mifflin's recreation department will host an eclipse party at the borough's main park just off Bettis Road and eclipse glasses will be provided.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun and appears to block the sun's rays. during a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon travels a narrow path along the Earth's surface.

Depending on your latitude --- your distance north or south of the equator --- the moon can seem to block out the entire sun or just a portion.

The path of totality --- the area on the ground where the sun appears to be totally blocked --- is only about 73 miles wide, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, and it passes through Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, but not Pennsylvania or the adjoining states.

Monday's eclipse is the first total eclipse visible throughout North America in 38 years, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Although the sun's rays are partially blocked by the moon during an eclipse, they are still dangerous, warn experts from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Looking at the sun during an eclipse --- even for a split second --- will cause eye damage that never heals, and which can't be repaired by modern medicine, said Dr. Deepinder Dhaliwal, a professor of ophthalmology at Pitt.

The sun's rays will cause a painless burn on the surface of the retina, she said in a statement released by UPMC.

“Picture the sun’s rays going through a magnifying glass and burning a hole through a leaf,” Dhaliwal said. “The same thing would be happening to your retina if you looked at the solar eclipse with a naked eye.”

People who want to view the eclipse safely can make a pinhole projector --- literally, a stiff piece of cardboard with a pinhole poked through it --- and aim the pinhole at a plain white screen. They should then look at the screen. (The American Astronomical Society and the National Science Foundation warn that pinhole projection does not mean looking at the sun through a pinhole, which is dangerous.)

Dhaliwal said even a colander can serve as a pinhole projector. When the light is projected through the object’s holes, she said, the shadow will morph into crescents once the eclipse occurs.

Pitt's School of Medicine and UPMC have produced a video about the eclipse, and why looking at one can be dangerous.

Special eclipse glasses are also available that enable viewers to look at the eclipse --- but counterfeit eclipse glasses are being reported, according to Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's attorney general.

Those glasses are not safe and using them to watch the eclipse can cause permanent eye damage, Shapiro said in a statement.

Legitimate solar eclipse glasses have special-purpose filters to protect your eyes, he said, while fake glasses do not. “Do some checking to make sure the glasses you buy will thoroughly protect your eyes and allow you to safely view the solar eclipse," Shapiro said.

A list of verified safe brands is available online from the AAS and NSF, Shapiro said. Actual eclipse glasses should bear the certification number ISO 12312-2.

Pennsylvania residents who believe that someone is selling fake eclipse glasses are encouraged to report it to the state Bureau of Consumer Protection, Shapiro said, by calling 1-800-441-2555 or emailing scam@attorneygeneral.gov.

Dhaliwal echoed Shapiro's advice. “The eclipse is a spectacle to behold, but it isn’t worth losing your vision,” she said.

(Illustration courtesy NASA.gov. Map copyright United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, via U.S. Naval Observatory.)

Originally published August 18, 2017.

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