The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017 wasn’t just an excuse to play hooky from work and head outdoors to witness an astronomical event that’s rarely visible across such a large swath of the contiguous United States.
Albeit brief, the coast-to-coast eclipse offered a welcome respite from, well, you know.
It was big news — different news — that generated genuine excitement and prompted interaction between Americans who might not see eye-to-eye otherwise. All the while, it highlighted the importance of something that’s had a rough go of it lately: real, accurate, predictable science. And even if you were located outside the path of totality and found the eclipse itself to be underwhelming, you can’t ignore the extraordinary way in which it brought people together. (Those lovey-dovey sentiments, however, likely disappeared real quick after folks started to hit the road.)
What’s more, some cities went out their way to ensure that absolutely no one was left out from participating in the massive collective experience — including those living in shelters and on the streets.
For example, the self-described “Total Solar Eclipse Capital of the East Coast,” Columbia, South Carolina, rolled out the red carpet to eclipse-watchers, hosting over 100 eclipse-themed festivals, events and craft beer-fueled fetes over a four-day period. At the same time, this bustling city of over 134,000 — the Palmetto State’s second largest city and one of the largest burgs located within the path of totality — didn’t forget to include its more vulnerable residents. Thanks to a partnership with United Way of the Midlands, outreach workers were able to distribute eclipse glasses to homeless individuals in parks and at bus stops across the city.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime. I think everyone deserves the chance to witness something as great as a solar eclipse,” Karina Henry of United Way of the Midlands told WLTX, adding that “it’s not just for safety purposes but it’s also an engagement tool to get people to the resources and the services they need.”
The United Way’s goal was to hand out 250 free pairs of eclipse glasses to homeless South Carolinians in Columbia and environs, which had the longest period of totality — 2 minutes and 36 seconds — of any metro area on the Eastern Seaboard.
While Charleston, South Carolina’s largest city, didn’t go dark for as quite as long as the capital, the historic port town was still a major eclipse-viewing destination. City officials there also made sure that its homeless population had access to proper protective eyewear in the event that they wanted to gaze upwards and observe the celestial spectacle.
The Post and Courier reports that a city employee set out a couple days ahead of the eclipse to distribute glasses in areas where homeless people sleep and congregate. Charleston police officers also carried spares in their patrol cars in the event of any “last minute” requests. A major Charleston shelter, One80 Place, also had viewing glasses at the ready for anyone who spent the night on the eve of the eclipse.
Eclipse-related do-goodery in Music City
Outside of South Carolina, Tennessee’s Nashville Rescue Mission benefited directly from the largesse of American Paper Optics, a major distributor of ISO-certified eclipse glasses headquartered in Memphis. (Memphis experienced a partial eclipse with 93 percent sun blockage at its peak, while Nashville, 200 miles to the northeast, was in the path of totality.)
As reported by WSMV-TV, the chief marketing officer of American Paper Optics planned to hand deliver a large quantity of the hot-in-demand glasses to the mission, which was established in 1954 to “provide hope for today, tomorrow and eternity to the hungry, homeless and hurting in Middle Tennessee.” Just days before the eclipse, the facility took in 751 people overnight, 61 of them children.
Big thanks to American Paper Optic for their generous donation of solar eclipse glasses for all of our men and women guests! https://t.co/BMjP5W0JMX— Nashville Rescue Mission (@NashvilleRescue) August 21, 2017
“That there’s a corporation that stops in the midst of their day what they do to do this for us is absolutely humbling,” Cheryl Noe, director of development for Nashville Rescue Mission, told WSMV-TV. “We are grateful. We thank them and now we can just be excited about the eclipse.”
Elsewhere, companies such as Citrix, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based software firm, viewed the eclipse as a chance to flex its altruistic muscle. While it didn’t distribute glasses to the city’s homeless population, the company did hold a rooftop viewing party that doubled as a fundraising event benefitting the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness. Per the News & Observer, Citrix’s eclipse bash — attended by an estimated 400 people — brought in $600 in donations, which was matched by the company for a total of $1,200. Reusable water bottles and bags were also collected.
It's not too late to donate gently used eclipse glasses
Wondering what to do with your eclipse glasses now that the Bonnie Tyler music has died down (phew!) and the Great American Eclipse of 2017 has passed?
You could potentially hang on to them for the next total solar eclipse to hit the United States on April 8, 2024 — Dallas, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and Burlington, Vermont, this one’s coming to you. But what about glasses printed with warnings that they have a shelf life of three years and should be discarded within that time frame after their initial use? (Glasses with lenses that are scratched, wrinkled or punctured should be discarded, no matter how old they are or when you plan to use them again.)
According to NASA the three-year rule is an outdated one and, provided that they are in good shape, eclipse glasses can be used over and over again.
If the filters aren’t scratched, punctured, or torn, you may reuse them indefinitely. Some glasses/viewers are printed with warnings stating that you shouldn’t look through them for more than 3 minutes at a time and that you should discard them if they are more than 3 years old. Such warnings are outdated and do not apply to eclipse viewers compliant with the ISO 12312-2 standard adopted in 2015.
That's fabulous news for thrifty types who want to hang on to their $2 investment.
Or, better yet, instead of shoving those funky paper shades into a junk drawer for who knows how long, eclipse glasses in good condition can be donated to Astronomers Without Borders.
The organization plans to launch a collection and redistribution campaign in the coming weeks so that young people in Asia and South America can safely view a total solar eclipse passing through that part of the world in 2019. Details on how and where to send the gently used glasses is forthcoming as Astronomers Without Borders firms up plans with local partnering organizations.
And for those who have a psychological attachment to their glasses but also want to help support the mission of Astronomers Without Borders, the organization, which is dedicated to providing astronomy-based education to children in developing parts of the world, also accepts monetary donations.
“Many schools in developing countries don’t have resources for science education and this is a rare opportunity that inspires students and teachers and shows them that science is something they can do,” Astronomers Without Borders Mike Simmons, president of Astronomers Without Borders, tells Gizmodo. “It can be a ray of hope for young people who don’t otherwise see a path to a career like this.”
Via [Atlas Obscura]