‘I saw the sun, all right’

Don’t look at the sun.

Don’t use an instrument of magnification to look at the sun.

Yep. I was told those in no uncertain terms. And I put them in my story.

And when I saw people staring on Monday, I warned them.

So, I was very careful.

I made a pinhole camera. I dug around in the warehouse, found a big piece of cardboard, folded it into a box, covered the ends with heavy, white paper (that was annoying), punched a tiny hole in the top, and cut out a space to look through.

It worked. My 45-minute, impromptu, materials-from-the-warehouse pinhole camera actually worked. I could see a pretty decent image of the sun in the box. And that image showed a bite out of the sun from my first look around 1:20 until I left for the Martz-Kohl Observatory at 2 p.m.

When I got there, I borrowed some NASA-approved “sunglasses” and got a direct look at the eclipse. That was better than using a pinhole camera, even one I had made.

The eclipse was pretty close to peak and there wasn’t much sun there.

Then, I put the glasses over my camera and tried to get a picture. I couldn’t find the sun. After a while, I figured I would line it up by looking. There were NASA-approved sunglasses over the lens. As long as I kept them there, no problem.

Yeah. One thing about that camera. The viewfinder is not TTL (through-the-lens). I found the sun, all right. In that instant of seeing that bright ball of light — even mostly covered by the moon, I realized my mistake.

It was bright and I was worried about my eye — which has been through enough. (Seems to be ok… or no worse than its normal state.)

A little later, I had a tour of the facility guided by Gary Nelson, president of the club at the observatory, who was very busy but generous enough to take 10 minutes to show me around.

There are three large scopes at the observatory. The latest is a 16-incher that was built for and used by the government. It’s not the biggest, but I hear it’s up to spec.

After my tour, I wanted — like all the hundreds of other people there — to see the sun again.

This time I had my own glasses. People started to leave after the peak and they were giving their glasses back.

I put them over the lens, opened up the screen, found the sun…

… and about hit myself in the head. Screen. That would have been a much better idea the first time.

So, all those warnings — “do not look at the sun,” “permanent damage,” “not even with sunglasses on” — and I look through an optical device at the sun for no reason.

Although I did not notice any particular damage, I was curious.

My favorite volleyball playing optometrist said, not surprisingly, that once the sun damages the eye, the damage is done.

Keeping your eyes skyward is great — just not in the middle of the day. The observatory is open on the first, second, and third Wednesdays of each month and will not subject visitors to permanent eye damage.

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