My experience watching the 2017 solar eclipse with the BrainPort

The February 1979 solar eclipse, the last total eclipse in North America during the twentieth century, happened during my third grade year. Of course a good  teacher would use it as a learning opportunity, explaining what an eclipse was etc. Mrs. Love was definitely one of those cool teachers, and also taught the class never to look directly at the sun, and how to use pinhole cameras with paper to be safe. My classmates and I went outside during the peak of the eclipse, not total but still 87%, and it was an exiting moment, though I was disappointed that I couldn’t see it.


Later, Mrs. Love told the class that the next solar eclipse would be on August 21, 2017. Ever since, i was interested in eclipses and thought they were pretty cool, even if i still couldn’t yet see them. As I got older I later learned that Mrs. Love was talking about total eclipses, and that partial solar eclipses were more common, even if less spectacular. Then I also learned about lunar eclipses, and wrote about seeing three of them with the BrainPort in a previous post.


Occasionally there would be partial solar eclipses, the 1991 eclipse was the most famous of them because it was a total eclipse in Hawaii. The partial eclipse in 1994 was the most interesting for me, however. It wasn’t total anywhere, but it was 85% in Madison, so quite significant. It was in May during final exam week, and I went out for a walk when it was reaching its peak. I was studying  at Edgewood college and heard students talking about how it looked and how it was getting dark. The thing interesting to me, was I noticed nature got quiet. The birds began to sing their bed time songs. I could also feel the temperature drop.


As I gained more experiences using the BrainPort, developed by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, and after seeing three lunar eclipses, I got excited for the solar eclipse as well. Fred, who had watched 2 lunar eclipses with me, was traveling that week, so Rich Hogle who was the engineer and designer of the hardware of the BrainPort met me at the same Rennebohm park where I’d watched the last lunar eclipse two years earlier.


Rich brought along a very nice beach chair so i didn’t have to stand in a position difficult to maintain, and we got to work. The first twenty or thirty minutes were frustrating for me. I had looked directly at the sun with the BrainPort previously, but now during the eclipse, nothing showed up on the tongue. Rich had an Android tablet that could display what the BrainPort was seeing, so between us we thought it would b easy. Then, Rich wondered if a solar filter was needed, that maybe the BrainPort camera was being overloaded.


By that time my friend Camden dropped by. He had a pinhole camera, and was reflecting the eclipse on to the basketball court, I tried to look at that with the BrainPort but that also didn’t work. Shadows are too nebulous through the BrainPort for comprehending sharp shapes.


Camden then went over to someone else also watching the eclipse in the park, and asked if he could borrow their solar eclipse glasses for five minutes explaining what I was trying to do with the BrainPort. The person agreed, and when he held them in front of the BrainPort’s camera lens, I could immediately see the small piece of what was left of the sun. It was amazing, even more to me than the lunar eclipses had been. Some pictures were taken, and then as promised, Camden returned the glasses to that other person, who I actually didn’t even ever meet.


The solar eclipse felt very similar on the tongue as the lunar eclipse did, though maybe smaller and somewhat more intense. It would be interesting if in a total eclipse, if the BrainPort could actually see specific effects like the diamond ring, or Bailey’s beads.


Over five years have already passed since that day, there will be another eclipse next year. I should probably buy a solar filter soon before I run out of time. Also hoping to travel some where that will be in the path of totality. Yes, cool things happen during total solar eclipses that a blind person can hear, like the quieting of nature until the crickets come out, but it wasn’t until I knew what the BrainPort could do ,that I felt traveling to a total solar eclipse would b worth it; now I know it is.

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