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By Bob Valen 

Today, the sky will darken ominously!

Some tips on the coming solar eclipse


NPS education specialist Janice Elvidge lets people look through a specially filtered telescope at the sun at North Dam Park during the 2015 Harvest Festival. - Scott Hunter photo

With the impending solar eclipse very close, it's nice to know the science of what is happening; humanity doesn't react to the old mythologies that surrounded past solar or lunar eclipse events. The scientific explanation of what we see has brought us beyond the myths.

Many cultures have explained eclipses - solar or lunar - as animals consuming either the sun or the moon, or that demons are the culprits. The Viking sky wolves are a favorite of mine. My Viking ancestors saw a pair of wolves in the sky chasing the sun or the moon. When a wolf caught either of the bright orbs, an eclipse was the result. Here in the Northwest, historically, the people of the Kwakiutl tribe, on the western coast of Canada, believed that the mouth of heaven consumed either the sun or moon during an eclipse.

Eclipses were and are a disruption of the established order, personal or otherwise. Today, we all depend on the movement of the sun every day and any disruption upsets our timing. On Monday, Aug. 21, we will witness a disruption.

The moon will start moving between us and the sun at 9:11 a.m. locally. At 10:25 a.m. our personal timing will be fully disrupted. At that time, we will experience a solar eclipse with 89.9 percent of the sun obscured here in the Coulee. It will be over by 11:44 a.m. With that much of the sun obscured, you may need your headlights to drive around.

Now for the safety message: Don't look directly at the sun without proper eye protection, eclipse or not! There are international standards established for direct viewing of the sun - eclipse or not. So, what can you use to view the sun during this event? Here are some specific recommendations from the folks at NASA:

"The Sun can be viewed directly only when using filters specifically designed for this purpose. Such filters usually have a thin layer of aluminum, chromium or silver deposited on their surfaces that attenuates ultraviolet, visible, and infrared energy. One of the most widely available filters for safe solar viewing is a Number 14 welder's glass, available through welding supply outlets. More recently, Aluminized Mylar has become a popular, inexpensive alternative. Mylar can easily be cut with scissors and adapted to any kind of box or viewing device."

Here is an online map of the path of the 2017 Solar Eclipse. You can use it to find the exact timing of the eclipse anywhere.

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