062917 august solar eclipse ho.jpg

This image of the moon crossing in front of the sun was captured on Jan. 30, 2014, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory observing an eclipse from its vantage point in space.

courtesy of NASA

If you're planning to watch the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, the Missoula Public Library wants to make sure you do it safely.

The library is offering more than 1,000 pairs of free eclipse viewing glasses to help people protect their eyes as they look up to see the moon crossing in front of the sun.

Only a tiny, five-mile sliver of southwest Montana is in the path of the full solar eclipse, but even the partial eclipse viewable in Missoula will be rare and memorable as the moon obscures 92 percent of the sun.

The library will be hosting an event on the day of the eclipse in Kiwanis Park. The peak time for observation will be about 11:30 a.m. that Monday, according to NASA's total solar eclipse interactive map.

The glasses being handed out will be about 1,000 times darker than normal sunglasses, said Greg Mosshammer, web content manager for the Space Science Institute. The institute was awarded a grant from the Moore Foundation, which provided 1.26 million free eclipse glasses and other resources for 1,500 public libraries across the nation.

Shane Mayer-Gawlik with the Montana Space Grant Consortium is helping coordinate the Eclipse Ballooning Project, which is a national effort of college and high school teams to release high altitude balloons to live stream the eclipse from the edge of space.

Even with the sun obscured, people who want to watch the eclipse should not stare at it without using some type of eclipse-safe eye wear, Mayer-Gawlik said.

"It will become eerily dark, similar to sunset with just a sliver of sun still above the horizon, but will — obviously — be casting light from high in the sky, as if one is wearing very strong sun glasses in full daylight," Mayer-Gawlik said. 

This might lead some people to believe they can look at the sun through their sunglasses, but this can damage their eyes, he said.

Ira Sather-Olson, chair of the Missoula Public Library’s programming committee, said in addition to the glasses, the library will be handing out informational pamphlets on the eclipse, which will include tools people can use to watch it safely.

"It's worth getting out of your house and coming to check out whatever we can see, even if we don’t have the best view of the eclipse," Sather-Olson said. "It's a really cool event, even if we can’t see it as well as other states." 

People don't need to go to Kiwanis Park on the day of the eclipse to get the glasses, said Pam Carlton, a youth services librarian. Starting Aug. 1, people can pick up a pair of glasses at the library. 

Through a grant, the state library received about 4,000 pairs of the glasses and all branches in Montana received about 35 pairs, said Cara Orban, the statewide projects librarian. The grant is provided through the Space Science Institute by the National Council for Interactive Learning, STARnet, the Moore Foundation, and the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

The Missoula library has about 1,000 glasses available, because Sather-Olson applied to receive the glasses through the grant without realizing the state library had the same idea.

Across the state, libraries will be hosting eclipse watching parties, science experiments for students, and other educational programs as part of the eclipse experience, Orban said.

More programming will be scheduled in the weeks prior to the event, Sather-Olson said.

Nicholos Wethington, president of the Western Montana Astronomical Association, will be doing a lecture on Aug. 7 on how to use the library's two telescopes, which library members can check out for up to a week at a time. Wethington does not advise people use the telescopes to view the eclipse. 

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