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Solar eclipse viewing glasses now available at Fairfax County Public Library branches

People at Reston Town Center witness the 2017 partial solar eclipse through viewing glasses (photo by Dave Emke)

Fairfax County Public Library is giving away free solar eclipse viewing glasses in anticipation of next month’s event, but to snag a pair, you’ll have to move fast.

Each branch will have “a very limited allotment” of a few hundred glasses at most, FCPL Board of Trustees chair Brian Engler confirmed. Though some branches received shipments early, the glasses were expected to be ready for distribution at all locations today (Wednesday), according to FCPL Director Jessica Hudson.

“As they are available at the branch, they will be distributed on a first-come/first-served model,” Engler said.

A total solar eclipse is slated to cross over North America on April 8, traveling northeast from Mexico’s Pacific coast through Texas and the eastern side of the Midwest up to Maine and Newfoundland, Canada. The journey will last from 11:07 a.m. to around 5:16 p.m., according to NASA.

Though Fairfax County isn’t in that path of totality, a partial eclipse will be visible, similar to what the area experienced during the August 2017 eclipse. In that event’s peak, about 82% of the sun was blocked by the moon.

An annular or “ring of fire” eclipse also occurred last Oct. 14, but clouds and rain ultimately put a damper on the event in the D.C. area. Even if the weather had been clear, viewers would’ve seen the moon’s shadow covering only about 40% of the sun.

According to NASA, the 2024 eclipse will pass over more populated areas than the one in 2017 did, and the totality will last longer. In the D.C. area, more of the sun — about 87.4% — will be blocked, so the eclipse “will be noticeably darker,” Fairfax County Park Authority spokesperson Benjamin Boxer says.

Based on NASA’s projections, the eclipse will start around 2:04 p.m., peak at about 3:20 p.m. and end at 4:32 p.m.

“We may even see a slight temperature drop during the event,” Boxer said by email. “…Since, in Northern Virginia, we are not in totality it is not safe to view without special solar glasses or using a projection method.”

Volunteers with the Analemma Society will share tips on how and where to safely view the eclipse at the park authority’s upcoming preview on March 25 at Turner Farm Park’s Roll-Top Observatory (925 Springvale Road) in Great Falls.

Scheduled for 7:30-8:30 p.m., the event is already full after opening registration back on Jan. 30, but a waitlist is available for those hoping to potentially get a spot. The event has an $8 fee.

Celebrations on the day of the eclipse are planned at Turner Farm Park, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, Burke Lake Park and Historic Huntley Meadows. As of press time, seats remained available for all sessions.

The Ellanor C. Lawrence and Burke Lake celebrations are scheduled for 2-4 p.m. and will feature “related games, activities and demonstrations” before and after the eclipse, along with a limited availability of viewing glasses and sun spotting scopes.

The Historic Huntley and Turner Farm events will take place from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and focus on the science behind eclipses. Attendees will get a free pair of viewing glasses, according to the FCPA.

For those who aren’t able to obtain glasses or would prefer a less direct viewing method, the park authority has instructions for creating a pin-hole mirror or using a colander to see the crescents of light created by the partial eclipse. Cereal boxes were popular viewing tools during the 2017 event.

Next month’s solar eclipse will give scientists a rare opportunity to study the sun and its effects on nature and Earth’s atmosphere, according to the Washington Post. The continental U.S. isn’t projected to get another total solar eclipse until 2044.

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