Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annular Solar Eclipse - The Ring of Fire

Today was one of the rare opportunities for the people of California to view a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon crosses between the sun and the earth, thus blocking the sun from the earth. Even though it was partial in Los Angeles, the moon still covered about 85% of the sun. It was especially rare because it was an annular eclipse creating a "ring of fire." The "ring of fire" is an eclipse in which the moon blocks out all except the sun's outer edge, creating a ring of light around a dark circle. It began at about 5:24 p.m. and reached its maximum at about 6:38 p.m. The transit of the moon ended at 7:42 p.m.

Using a pinhole projection box that I created, I was able to view the solar eclipse without injuring my eyes. Even though the image was small and it wasn't a complete "ring of fire", it was still breathtaking. When I first heard about the annular eclipse, I immediately started doing research and tried to learn as much as I could about it. All that research made the experience of viewing the solar eclipse so much more enjoyable and made me appreciate the site more than I would have otherwise. It has always been my goal to view a solar eclipse, and I suppose my goal was fulfilled. That only means that my next goal is to view a total solar eclipse. Perhaps when I'm older, I will travel to an area where you are able to see that. Some day, it is my goal to go on a retreat of sorts to just view the wonders the sky. Today was just another step on my journey to learning about the sky.

I know that many people in Los Angeles were eager to view the solar eclipse today because in 1992, Los Angeles missed the full "ring of fire" eclipse due to the clouds. In contrast, there was perfect weather for viewing it today. In addition, it is evident that people were excited seeing how the Griffith Observatory and several other places sold out of eclipse glasses. The eclipse was first seen in China and Japan before moving to be seen in parts of the western United States. If you want to read the full coverage of the eclipse that the LA Times had, here is the link

This map shows where the full annular eclipse could have been seen. It is indicated by the gray area of the map.

Despite the fact I did not have an eclipse glasses, I used the alternative way of viewing it using a pinhole projection box. It didn't exactly look the best, but it did a pretty good job considering it was a box and piece of white paper. An alternative way of looking at it was projecting an image of the sun with a telescope or binoculars onto the ground. You could have also used a welder's mask #14. Despite how safe it may have seemed, looking at the sun through sunglasses or film is not safe and still causes eye damage. It may be better than staring at the sun with a naked eye, but it can still cause damage The safest way to view it is when the sun is projected onto a surface. I know that there's nothing you can do about it now that it's over, but I just thought it should be known for the next solar eclipse.

This was my pinhole projection box. It was just a box with a pinhole and a piece of white paper. Viewing the solar eclipse was as easy as aiming that box at the sun. It was simple and effective.

Here is the projection of the eclipse onto the paper. It wasn't exactly as big of a projection as I would have liked, but it was amazing nonetheless.

According to an LA Times article, the next solar eclipse will be in 2023 when 78% of the sun's diameter will be blocked by the sun. The next two after that will cover 83% of the sun's diameter in 2044 and 2045. The next major solar eclipse that will be greater than the one today will occur in 2071 when 91% of the sun will be covered. It is probably disappointing if you missed today's eclipse but know that there will be a few others in Los Angeles during your lifetime and many other eclipses around the world.

Space Age Crystal Growing Kit

During my last visit to the Museum of Natural History, I saw some interesting things in the exhibits and found some intriguing items at the gift shop. Among those items was the Space Age Crystal Growing Kit. After walking around the museum and seeing the exhibit that had many sparkly gems in it, I was interested in trying to create some of my own. It's true that I probably could have created a sugar crystal (aka. rock candy), but I wanted to try something else. Instead, I tried to grow crystals using this kit that I found at the California Science Center. Unfortunately, the results were not great.

The first crystal I attempted to grow was an "aquamarine" cluster. The instructions seemed simple although I can't say I followed them exactly. First, I found a large rock that fit the requirements and a container to put it in. Next, I added the correct amount of boiling water and the blue crystal powder that was in the kit into the container with the rock. Admittedly, what happened was that the first container I tried was too big, so I had to re-pour the solution into a smaller container. After that, I continued to follow the instructions that included steps such as covering and uncovering the solution and adding seed crystals to it. After a week, I ended up with a strange set of crystals if I could even call it that. The rock didn't have anything on it that I could have called a crystal. However, on the bottom of it, there was a layer of crystal that had tiny crystals on it. I ended up parting the two pieces and throwing away the rock. The result was not what I expected at all, and I considered it a failure.

The next crystal I tried to grow was a "diamond" cluster. Like before, I followed the instructions that were similar to the first set of instructions except with different amounts of ingredients. I suppose the results of the second set of crystals was more successful but still far from my expectations. When the experiment was finished, I ended up with a lot of moist globs of powder that was neither here nor there. From that mess, I was able to locate a couple of crystals that actually looked like, well, crystals.

There are still two more crystals to grow, but I can't start them yet until I find an old saucepan that will never be used again. However, I'm not exactly eager to be trying to grow crystals again after the first two failures. The first time, I admit that it was probably my fault that it failed because of the transfer of the solution, but the second time should have worked. Now, I'm not sure if it is me that is the problem or the kit. I really tried but to no avail. So far, I believe that the crystals that I saw on display at the gift shop were misleading. Perhaps it was because I wasn't exact enough, but I can't be exact down to the last drop of water. It could also be that I heated the water first and then poured it into the container with the crystal powder since I did not have a saucepan that would never to used again to mix the powder into the water while boiling. I don't know for sure. I just know that this kit isn't working for me and was in some ways not worth it to me.

(Pictures to come)