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What curious kids — and adults — should know ahead of Monday’s solar eclipse

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

With Monday’s solar eclipse set to reach its peak in the Pittsburgh region just after 3 p.m., several local school districts have planned for remote instruction or early dismissal.

That will help eliminate any additional safety hazards created by traffic and eclipse excitement, NASA scientist Nick Lang said.

“You can have lots of cars in the road that people are standing around,” Lang said. “And so the more you can have people who don't need to be out at that time…in different locations, the better.”

The scheduling changes will also give many students a chance to experience this real-life science outside the classroom. Lang answered kids’ questions about the rare event at a recent presentation inside the Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium.

"What elements viewers will see in the darkened sky?"

Eleven-year-old Reese asked whether other planets would be visible during the eclipse.

Lang, also a professor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., said that depends on the planet’s brightness.

“Things that are the brightest in the night sky are going to come out during the daylight there,” he explained. “You won't be able to see all the stars, you won't be able to see all the planets, but you are going to see the ones that are actually the brightest in the night sky at that time.”

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA

"What will the sun look like?"

Seven-year-old Bryson asked what the sun will look like with the moon in front of it, wondering if it might resemble what he imagined a black hole would look like.

Lang said families can find out at home using black construction paper and chalk. He said kids can cut out a circle and color it in with chalk. That circle is then put down onto the construction paper — chalky side up — and chalk can be smeared out around the circle.

Then Lang said to peel the circle away.

“That's what it's going to look like. You're going to see a sort of black circle, very dark, with just this sort of really light-colored stuff coming off behind it, which is the sun's atmosphere, or we call it the corona,” Lang explained.

Lang said because the moon will be closer to the Earth than usual, viewers in Pittsburgh will be able to see it block out most of the sun. While the city won’t be in the path of totality like its northern neighbors in Cleveland and Erie, approximately 97% of the sun will be covered.

When and how to view the eclipse safely

According to Lang, the eclipse will reach totality in Erie, Pa. at 3:16 p.m. and last until 3:20 p.m. The eclipse will peak in the Pittsburgh area around that same time, with “a good amount of sun blocked out.”

He added the eclipse will be a great opportunity for kids and adults to learn not only about space, but also the world around them.

“Birds will probably start quieting down. You might have animals trying to find shelter for the night,” Lang said. “And so you can not just think about astronomy or planetary geology. We can also think about biology.”

That is, as long as everyone can do so safely.

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA

"Can I look directly at the eclipsed sun?"

Only if and while it’s totally blocked by the moon, which happens only in the path of totality. Pittsburgh sits outside that path.

Lang stressed that those who want to look directly at the eclipse must wear eclipse glasses specially designed to protect viewers’ eyes — however, some ophthalmologists are advising parents against allowing kids to use them.

Pittsburgh-based retina specialist Dr. Denise Gallagher of the UPMC Vision Institute said these glasses are often too big for children, who may not follow directions to wear them properly. Also kids’ eyes are more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

“The lens inside their eyes are very clear, and the sunlight gets through very easily, as opposed to older adults, where our natural lens inside our eye has some filtering ability,” said Gallagher.

Because damage to the retina doesn’t cause pain, kids may not know they’re harming their eyes. The retina isn’t able to regenerate from a burn, and there is no effective treatment to reverse the damage.

For Gallagher’s own kids — ages seven and 10 — she’ll be making pinhole viewers which will allow them to view the eclipse indirectly. These views can be DIY-ed using a cereal box, printer paper, foil and tape.
Copyright 2024 90.5 WESA.

Jillian Forstadt
Sarah Boden