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18 Jun 2001 00:00
The huge ball of fire that is the sun is something that shouldn't be messed with. (Reuters)
SOUTH African scientists have come up with an unlikely alternative to prevent eye damage while looking at this week’s solar eclipse—teabag tinfoil.
With eclipse-fever gripping southern Africa, prompting several countries to launch massive eye-awareness campaigns, South African newspapers will carry special “solar glasses” on Tuesday to watch the greatest celestial show in decades two days later.
But for those unable to get a paper, or buy the special glasses at various outlets around the country for five rand (60 US cents), scientists at the Johannesburg Planetarium have come up with a cheap alternative.
Claire Flanagan, who heads the Planetarium says a double layer of teabag tinfoil wrapper from the “Five Roses” brand proved to be as effective as the special solar glasses.
“We tested a range of products, and while technically there may be others that could be used we have for a variety of safety reasons decided to promote the use of at least two layers of Five Roses teabag foil only,” says Flanagan.
“We cannot vouch for the safety of any other types of tinfoil,” she says.
“Normal sunglasses just don’t work. The heat from the sun will cause blind spots which could cause permanent damage to the eyes,” Flanagan said.
“Looking through solar glasses or the two layers of tinfoil, viewers will be able to get a good look at the eclipse,” she says.
Flanagan warns however that sun-watchers should not look at the eclipse for longer than 10 seconds at a time, and take at least a 10 minute break in between viewings.
Francois Gesquiere, a tour operator who spearheaded the manufacturing of the 700,000 “solar glasses”, says there was a lot of concern that people would try and watch the eclipse without any protection.
“There are other alternatives, like using welding goggles, but they are not the best way.
Using the glasses are highly recommended,” he says.
Although there is a lot of interest in the event, South African tour operators say they have not had many eclipse bookings.
South African Tourism information officer Xolani Mthethwa said since the start of the year, the organisation had been getting about 10 calls monthly—mainly from abroad—asking about the eclipse.
“We haven’t had a lot of calls, and no special tours are packages has been organised.
There is, however, some consolation for those travellers who have failed to make arrangements to watch this year’s eclipse.
On December 4 next year, there will be another total eclipse when the shadow over South Africa will be bigger, says Flanagan.
Southern Africa’s first total solar eclipse in 21 years starts mid-morning Thursday on the Angolan west coast, and follows an elliptical track across the region.
It will pass almost directly over the Zambian capital Lusaka, before casting a spectacular shadow over eastern Madagascar around sunset.
South Africans watching the phenomenon will be less lucky. In Johannesburg, the eclipse will obscure about two-thirds of the sun, while in Cape Town 1_400 km to the south, it will be at 40% strength. - AFP
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