Monday, May 14, 2012

Solar Eclipse in Tahoe May 20th

Tahoe is going to have a solar eclipse!

There will be an annular eclipse of the sun visible throughout the Reno/Tahoe region on May 20th, 2012According to Nevada Magazine the totality of the eclipse will last from 6:28 to 6:33 p.m local time in the regions with the longest totality. 

Though a partial eclipse will be visible across the region, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Pyramid Lake are all directly in the path of the moon's shadow where all of the sun except for a small ring of light will be totally obscured.

Since this is an evening eclipse, the best observing sites will be places with a clear view to the west, like just about anywhere on the east shore of Lake Tahoe or Pyramid lake.  The amount of time the sun stays eclipsed will vary across the region depending on where you are.  It will last about 2:45 in South Lake Tahoe, 3:55 in Reno and Truckee, and a full 4:30 at the south end of Pyramid Lake where the 3-day Eclipse music festival has been organized arround the astronomical event.  Click here for detailed maps of exact times and durations of this eclipse from


Remember, it's never wise to stare into the sun without protection! Even during the totality of a solar eclipse the part of the sun that is visible still puts out enough light to damage your retina after a few minutes.  You can protect yourself by buying an eclipse viewerr or set of eclipse glasses from or your local party supply store; if you have a set of welding goggles or a piece of smoked glass that will also offer adiquite protection. 

If you must observe an eclipse without proper protection, you can still get a decent view of what the sun is doing by looking DOWN.  Put a pinhole in a piece of paper or cardboard and use that pinhole to project an image of the sun's disc onto the ground, and then watch that: the light reflected off the ground is perfectly safe and the resulting image of the sun is much larger and more detailed than what you can see directly by looking up. (This also works for observing sunspots and the upcoming transit of Venus due June 5th.)


Fair warning, photographing an eclipse is NOT an easy photography task. NEVER point your camera into the sun without a solar filter or you'll fry your CCD because the extreme brightness of the solar disc is just as hazardous to the sensor in your digital camera as it is to your eye. You can get a solar filter for $100-200 at your local camera store or from -- (I've heard talk that a welding shield will also offer adiquite protection at a much lower price, but I can't confirm this so try it at your own risk only.)

If you want to successfully photograph an eclipse, you must use the manual mode of your camera with exactly the right camera settings and filters or you won't get a usable image.  (For full technical details, see Eclipse Chaser's excelent blog on "How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse")
My advice to the non-professional: Don't even bother trying to photograph the eclipse itself with a low resolution pocket camera or camera phone, all you'll get is a blurry dot and a fried sensor.  To get a good shot of an eclipse you need an SLR with a long telephoto lens and a good manual mode. 

If you don't have the skills and quality of camera to take pictures of the eclipse itself, focus on the crowds, the changing light in the surroundings, or your pinhole projection on the ground; or choose to just enjoy the event itself and save yourself the bother and just rely on the internet to serve you up plenty of pictures later.