How trying to find a lunar eclipse totally blind without sighted help got close but didn’t quite work out

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about experiences I had watching 3 lunar eclipses with the BrainPort artificial vision device. After that the next two eclipses came in the winter, so I played chicken and stayed inside. Last year, there was an eclipse in May and it was the last one for the next three years, so I wanted to view it.

 

The eclipse didn’t start until almost midnight and being a work/school night I didn’t think any of my friends would be up for it, so I wondered if I could find it alone with my iPhone. I put out the question on twitter and got a response to use the free app SkyView light. It was an app that would tell you where the major objects in the sky were in real time. It gives a compass heading and the distance above the horizon, so I thought using the compass and the level in the measure app I could do it.

 

I went to a park near me where I’d watched the previous lunar eclipse and got to work. I got where the moon should be from SkyView and then looked right around that area with the BrainPort without success. I tried for about fifteen minutes but couldn’t find it. I then heard some people talking in Chinese, so asked if they were also watching the eclipse. They switched to English and said they were, and then helped me by aiming the BrainPort camera right at the eclipse, but by that point, it was almost total and I couldn’t feel anything. The grad students told me i was very close to the eclipse before I gave up though, so at least I know using the iPhone apps didn’t mislead me, and that it is a possible solution for the future.

 

When it warms up again, I will try to find a full moon and see how it goes. This was the first time I’d tried to see the moon with the second hardware version of the BrainPort, and the camera is different, it also only zooms into about 2-3 degrees; whereas, the original BrainPort zooms into one degree. This may preclude it from seeing astronomy, it was designed as a navigational device after all.

 

I didn’t get to see the eclipse that night, but I got some experience using an app I previously thought would be useless for a blind person. If I can find the battery charger for the older BrainPort, I’ll compare the two looking at the moon in the spring.

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