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Posts tagged ‘Eclipse’

The Eclipse Shade Shortage – A post eclipse after-action report

Its been well over a month since the total solar eclipse took place in the United States and for a small science store the overwhelming experience for us was the demand (and inability to supply) eclipse shades for viewing the event.  We bought hundreds of eclipse shades, but underestimated the last minute demand for them.

So what happened? Well, mostly it was folks waiting until the last minute (sometimes later than the last minute) to purchase shades, combined with some unscrupulous dealers selling eclipse shades that were not up to acceptable standards.

Early Warnings of Frauds

As early as February of 2017 there were warnings about substandard eclipse glasses being sold on the market. This wasn’t a major issue at the time but some of the glasses were showing up with fake . certification warnings and using the logos of legitimate eclipse shade sellers such as Rainbow Symphony and American Paper Optics. While this was a problem, it was purely a safety problem and was not yet a logistics issue.

Early Orders Sell Out

Nobody  wanted to buy hudnreds of eclipse shades montsh and months before the eclipse actually happened so we (and many others) placed their orders 3 months before the eclipse happened. Sales were decent but not spectacular. Nonetheless we did run out of the shades about a month before the eclipse and ordered more, expecting a decent increase in demand but not a floodgate.

Floodgates Open

The next batch was selling handily and we tried to order more before they ran out and were told by our supplier (American Paper Optics) that they would be unable to fill any more orders as they had over 18,000 orders in need of filling. Most of these were custom orders that needed printing, etc. They were overwhelmed.

Still we had an OK supply of Eclipse Shades in the store. We figured we would run out before the eclipse but that people would understand and find other sources.

Amazon Drops the Ball

A little over a week before the Eclipse, Amazon suddenly refunded anyone who purchased eclipse shades, solar filters, and other solar viewing items. They advised people not to use those shades as they were not approved for solar viewing. Sadly some vendors selling decent eclipse shades were caught up in this firestorm but more importantly thousands of customers suddenly found out that their shades were defective and to use them might be dangerous.

So now in addition to the usual last-minute customers there would also be a legion of customers who did plan ahead but found their equipment compromised and in need of replacement. On August 12th we sold the last of our Eclipse Shades, and the flood gates for requests started to open. BY the 14th we had noticed we were getting quite a few calls, on the 15th we got even more calls. By the 16th we decided to start keeping track. Here was our final tally:

Most of these were phone calls, but a number of them were people coming to the store itself. The phone simply would not stop ringing and it got to the point where we wanted to answer the phone “Thank you for calling Spectrum Scientifics, we are out of eclipse shades!” to save time. But hat seemed a little rude.

Naturally, when we explained that we were out of eclipse shades many folks asked where they could get them. Here is the timline of what we advised:


8/16: Suggested that they try the stores at the Franklin Instute Science Museum.

8.17 : Franklin Institute is apparently out of eclipse shades. Rumors are that several 7-11 stores have them as an impulse item. Media notices the shortage and reports the troubles finding them.

8/18 : Customers tell us they tried 7-11 and they are all out of them, tales are told of travelling for hours to get to a 7-11 that might have them

We now advised customers to attend events where libraries, local television stations and other locations would be handing out the glasses. These events are overwhelmed and run out fairly quickly.

8/19: Over 100 inquiries in one day. We are advising that customers use projection systemsfor viewing. Some customers ask if we are selling such items (we are not as they are constructed out of cereal boxes).

8/20: Inquiries decline slightly as people read in the media that there are no eclipse shades to be had. It is the day before the eclipse. Still, over 70 people inquire about them.

8/21: Eclipse day!  Calls are still coming in as we set up our telescope to show a projection of the eclipse:

Many people on the street gather around to watch the projection. Several try the ‘smartphone shooting over the shoulder technique’, others come by with carboard projection systems they have built themseleves. Cars even slow down on Main St to look at the eclipse projection. Thankfully no traffic incidents happen as a result of this…

And we continued to get calls about Eclipse shades!

Until the local peak had passed there were people calling about buying eclipse shades. To be fair they did understand that they were the very definition of ‘last minute’ but there wasn’t much we could tell them at that point. During our store event we had a couple of sample pairs that we passed around for people to use. It turns out a single pair could could be shared among a dozen people without much incident.

The Aftermath

On April 8th, 2024 (an unusually short time) there will be another total eclipse in the USA and this time, if we are still around, we hope not to get caught off guard. Will the wisdom of last minute shoppers change? (Our experience with holiday shoppers says ‘no’), will people try to re-use Eclipse Shades from 2017? (Doutbless some will, but they should not as they really should not be used after a year or two), and we cannot expect Amazon to mess up like they did in 2017.

We are looking forward to it.


So you want to view the Eclipse…

On August 21st, 2017 a large portion of the Continental US will experience a total solar eclipse. Much of the rest of the continental US will experience at at least a partial eclipse: Philadelphia will have about 78% totality, NYC 75%, Washington DC 84%, Chicacgo 88%, Los Angeles 70%, Seattle 93%, etc.


Classic Spectrum Blog Repost: Projection Solar Astronomy

Editorial Note:  With a partial solar eclipse being visible in select parts of North America today it is a good time to re-cap one of our older posts about how to project and image of the sun onto cardboard using a telescope or binoculars. Sadly given that we are still in a Nor’Easter here in the Philadelphia region we will probably not be able to enjoy the eclipse.  So be sure to view it for us if you are able:


With the just passed annular eclipse out in the Western part of the USA a couple of weekends ago and the upcoming transition of Venus you might be inclined to buy  a fancy solar filter for that telescope.

Well there might be a problem with that. See everyone else had the same idea as you, and that means the manufacturers of such filters are pretty much out of stock! It can even be hard to find just the filter material! What to do?

Well, there is another way of viewing the sun without the use of a filter. It can be tricky and it can be dangerous if proper care is not taken.  That method is called projection astronomy. This is where you use the telescope & eyepiece to actually project the image you would normally see with your eye onto a board or other bright surface.

What do you need? You need a telescope with an eyepiece (preferably lower-medium powered), a sunny day, and something to project the image onto.

We came up with this kind of last minute, so we just used a flat box on a clipboard. It had problems with the box seams, but the surface was very bright (brighter than the average piece of printer paper) and so would give a decent image.

Crude, but effective.

Next up, we need a telescope. We used an Orion StarBlast 6 , mostly because that is what we had around the store.

Telescope is in action.

Note that the picture above shows the telescope in action. When setting it up and aiming it you should LEAVE THE DUST COVER ON.  This is the best thing for your safety.

Aiming your telescope at the sun is pretty easy, just try to get your tube to make the smallest shadow possible.  When you think you are on target, remove the dust cover and see if there is any light coming through the eyepiece. DO NOT look into the eyepiece, ALSO DO NOT LOOK DOWN THE AT THE EYEPIECE. View it from the side. We are not responsible for your losing your eyesight!!!

Now a further  safety warning: Try to avoid getting any body parts in the path of the light coming out of the eyepiece. Hold the board on the edge, work around the telescope, not over it, etc.

So now that you are lined up with the sun, you can see what kind of image you have. Place the projection board about a foot or so away from the eyepiece. Move it closer or further away to try and get it into focus. DO NOT bring it closer than 6 inches from the eyepiece, the light is a little too concentrated there and some types of paper might burn.

Some adjusting will be needed. It is best to move the screen rather than the telescope. If you must adjust the focuser, put the dust cover over the front of the telescope.

So what kind of view so you get? Well, here is a shot of the screen that is a little closer than the last photo:

This didn’t show up too well in the photo, but if you look closely, you can see some sunspots projected on to the board to the right and right/down of the center.


How well will projection astronomy work on the transit of Venus? We don’t know for certain. The sun will be very low in the sky and there may be more distortion or discoloration as a result. But if you have the time and the telescope, this isn’t exactly an expensive experiment! Just remember to be careful! Pointing a telescope at the sun always has risks – just use common sense and keep out of the path of the projected sunlight and you should  be fine!



The Annular Solar Eclipse – May 20th 2012

Its a bit hard to write about a solar eclipse when the rain is falling, and doubly so when the viewing area is not where you live. But this is a rather important astronomical event and many readers might be in a position to actually see it. We are talking about the Sunday, May 20th annular solar eclipse.

Annular eclipses are when the Moon is positioned in front of the sun, but unlike total eclipses the sun is not completely blocked due to the Moon being further away than in a total eclipse. This means a reduced apparent diameter and results in the “ring of fire’ appearance.

The majority of this eclipse will take place over the Pacific Ocean, and only portions of the Western part of the USA will be able to see it take place close to sundown. Here is a rough map of the areas that can view a portion of this eclipse:

Folks in Alberquerque have all the luck!

Remember that special care should be taken to view an eclipse – view either via a projection method or with a properly made solar filter or eclipse glasses. Do NOT try to view using sunglasses. Even at sundown the sun can be excessively bright and harmful to your eyes.

Enjoy the eclipse if you can!