Experiencing the Southern California 2012 Eclipse

Genie Davis June 6, 2012 No Comments

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Solar Eclipse May 2012 Southern California

May 2012 Solar Eclipse as seen from the foggy coastal area in Southern California

We were recently treated to a solar eclipse in Southern California.  The event took place on May 20th, 2012 between 5:15pm and 7:45pm. While we had to outrun a little coastal fog to get a clear view, we had a great time, and the kids saw a once-in-a-lifetime (or three or four times in a lifetime, anyway) event. Just explaining the idea that moon was going to temporarily block out the sun made the afternoon’s viewing a greatly anticipated, sci-fi worth event for the little ones.

Making an Eclipse Viewer

Because we knew the solar eclipse was going to be hard on young eyes, we made a very simple solar eclipse viewer out of a large cracker box and some foil. It took less than a half hour and revved up the excitement.

The first step was taking a white sheet of paper a little smaller than the box and taping it inside for a “projection screen” for the eclipse. We cut off the side tabs, put foil over one side creating a “lens” of sorts. Next came the really fun part, poking a hole in the foil to let the sunshine in. We used a pencil.

 

Here Comes the Sun 

Eclipse May 20th, 2012

The kids loved seeing the eclipse - and we did too - tiny image reflected in sun flare

Thus equipped – along with cameras, iPhones, and video cameras for the adults and older kids, almond butter and jelly sandwiches, and a blanket to rest on,  we drove away from our coastal area home, heading inland and uphill. The foggy day made me wish, just a little, that I’d sprung for a family trip to New Mexico, but despite less than perfect viewing conditions, we had a wonderful time.

From a park at the crest of the Palos Verdes Peninsula just south of LAX, we had a nice clear view of the eclipse at first. We snapped some photos that showed both the intense sun and the reflected eclipse, and the youngest set got their eclipse viewer ready.

They stood with their backs to the sun and peered through the viewing “window” in the box, moving it around until they were able to spot the sun coming through that pin hole and projecting its image on the white sheet of paper at box-bottom.

Lots of oohs and ahhs as the projected sun circle shrunk while the moon blocked it from the earth and the children’s eyes.

Meanwhile, outside the box, a bagpiper serenaded the crowd of about fifty eager gazers on the hill, some of whom employed actual eclipse glasses ordered from an observatory shop on line, welders goggles, larger versions of our box technique, or held cameras aloft watching the show on their digital screens. Some fog was creeping in as the blue sea roiled below, and we all took turns looking in the side screen at the video image of the eclipse that my son was recording. Unfortunately, the fog rolled in thickly at this point,  a big bank of it coming up the hill slowly from the sea.

So we climbed back in the car and drove until we found sun, this time from the roof of a mall parking garage. While the scenery was less bucolic, we had a fairly clear gazing point, and the kids enjoyed being “eclipse chasers.”

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset from Redondo Beach after the Eclipse

The kids had a great time running on the beach after the eclipse faded into a stellar sunset

As evening began to fall and the eclipse itself wane, we headed back to the beach, where some of the fog had cleared, and we were able to get a look at a completely spectacular sunset, and let the kids run along the shore, box-less again. We broke out the Dollar Tree glow sticks and they created their own colorful light show down on the sand.

All that eclipse-viewing, driving, beach running, and the kids weren’t tired yet. We watched Venus rise in the now clear night sky and then headed for one of our favorite inexpensive dining spots near home, La Playita in Hermosa Beach. This little Mexican café has crisp homemade tortilla chips, excellent fish tacos, and an outdoor patio for warm nights.

And of course, what’s an eclipse without learning a little bit about the event?

A Visit to Griffith Observatory

While we avoided the parking hassles at LA’s fine Griffith Observatory on the day of the eclipse itself, it made an excellent stop a few days afterwards.

The observatory offers monthly public star parties that are a great deal of fun for the whole family and free, besides. Held in association with the Los Angeles Astronomical Society and the Los Angeles Sidewalk Astronomers, from late afternoon to evening, the parties offer a great opportunity for the entire family to look through a number of different telescopes, talk to intelligent astronomers about the day and night sky, and take a good look at the sun and the moon the kids just saw merge.

Keeping the sun theme going, we spent a fair amount of time at the outdoor sundial, and The Solar System Lawn Model which, in scale of course, is a great visualization of the orbits and size of the planets around the Sun. The Sundial lets kids guess the time without relying on a watch. It was fun to see how close – or in our case, how far – we were from the actual time of day.

Inside the observatory itself, our kids were fascinated by the “Big Picture” the vast astronomically correct depiction of the galaxies observable both with the naked eye and through a telescope. Not free, but well worth attending for children over the age of five, the planetarium show features stellar projection and a completely immersed experience the universe itself.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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