Eclipse fever may be a little slow to spread in Western New York, but at least some observers will be ready when the sky dims May 10 for what could be the best solar eclipse visible here for several years.
Eclipse guides and "eclipse glasses" are on the market in this area, although experts urge extreme caution in any attempt at eclipse viewing.
The path of this spring's annular eclipse passes directly over Buffalo, between 11:41 a.m. and 3:09 p.m. May 10. The moon will be entirely between the Earth and the sun, blocking out 90 percent of the direct sunlight, from 1:22 to 1:28 p.m.
An annular eclipse means that a ring of direct sunlight will be visible around the darkened lunar disk even during the midpoint of the eclipse, and permanent eye damage could result from direct viewing without proper protection. The next total eclipse visible in this area won't come until 2024, and the next significant partial eclipse will be in 2017.
Guides to eclipses and safe viewing are available from several sources.
A concise 10-page guide is available from the Buffalo Astronomical Association for $2, either at the Beaver Meadow Nature Center on Welch Road, North Java, or by mail from the association at P.O. Box 1824, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14302-1824.
An expanded 128-page guide, geared toward both the general public and experienced astronomers, is available for $6.95 from Chimento Observational Supplies, 7354 Sand Hill Road, Akron, N.Y. 14001. The company is also the local supplier of "eclipse glasses," with solar filters, for $3.
Welding supply companies also sell No. 14 welder's lenses, which can be used to view eclipses, and reputable and established astronomical supply houses also can provide equipment. Among the national firms offering guides, glasses and filters is ABELexpress, 230 E. Main Street, Carnegie, Pa. 15106.
Experts caution against many other techniques, including the use of sunglasses, fogged photographic film, mylar from party balloons or "space blankets," or the cheap sun filters sold with some small telescopes. All could leave the viewer open to permanent eye damage.
Clouds also don't screen out enough sunlight to make viewing safe even for brief periods. The eye lacks pain receptors to provide any warning even while the damage is occurring.
The safest viewing method remains the indirect method known as pinhole projection, which uses a small hole in a card or piece of foil to focus an image of the sun on a piece of white paper held in the shade about two feet away. The technique will be demonstrated by members of the Buffalo Astronomical Association during Astronomy Day at the Beaver Meadow facility, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 7.