Astronomers Without Borders is raising funds to get 40,000 sets of eye-saving viewers to African schoolchildren in time for next month's solar eclipse.

Path of November 2013's hybrid solar eclipse

The eclipse on November 3, 2013, begins as an annular event (far-left end of green line) but quickly becomes a total solar eclipse as the Moon's umbra crosses the Atlantic Ocean and central Africa. Click on the image for a larger version.

Sky & Telescope illustration / source: F. Espenak

Few natural events are more spectacular than a total solar eclipse, and by this time next month (if the weather gods are willing), our sold-out Sky & Telescope – Spears Travel group will have witnessed totality from the shore of Kenya's Lake Turkana.

While most Africans will not be directly in the path of the Moon's umbral shadow on November 3rd, the event will still bring a deep partial eclipse to the continent. Millions of people, unaware of the danger to their eyesight, will be tempted to look directly at the Sun.

A few months ago, I chatted with old friend Mike Simmons, who heads Astronomers Without Borders, to explore how we eclipse-goers might bring astro-themed educational material and equipment to the Africans situated near the eclipse path.

Kenyan boy and Saturn

A young Kenyan boy paints a clay model of the planet Saturn.

Kevin Babangida & Susan Murabana

As he often does, Simmons took the idea and ran with it. First, he put me in touch with Susan Murabana, an amateur astronomer who serves as AWB's national coordinator in Kenya. She told me the Kenyan government has no plans to prepare citizens for the upcoming event. So she is working with local organizations and companies to try to fill the void.

Then Simmons launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise enough money to send nearly 35,000 safe solar viewers to Kenya, Nigeria, and Gabon (which straddle the path of totality) and another 8,000 to neighboring Sao Tome, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania.

"IAU's Office of Astronomy for Development in South Africa is really what's making this possible," says Simmons. "I thought we'd have a minor program until its staff offered to use their contacts across Africa to identify schools and distribute glasses by the thousands."

You can read about the effort — and make a donation, if you wish to — on the AWB's "Eclipse Glasses Donations for Africa" webpage.

Tanzanian children view the Sun

Young children in Tanzania take a (safe) peek at the Sun using solar-viewing glasses.

Chuck Ruehle / Astronomers Without Borders

So how will all these donated viewers get to Africa in time, you might ask? That's where I and other eclipse-goers come in. More than 3,000 solar viewers can be squeezed into a 31-pound box that can be checked as baggage at the airport. AWB will arrange to get a box of into the hands of willing travelers bound for the eclipse. Once these volunteers reach their African destinations, the boxes will be turned over to local volunteers for distribution to local schools in time for the big event.

All this seems like a "win-win" to me. So please consider making a donation, and then check back here after the eclipse to find out how well the effort succeeded.


Image of W.T.


October 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Thanks for letting me know about this initiative! I went and donated because of this article. I think this is a terrific idea and I'm glad to help others share my love of astronomy.

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Image of Roy Robinson

Roy Robinson

October 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm

A great cause, and an opportunity for us to make sure that the "evil empire" i.e., the U.S.A., gets a little credit for at least trying to do some good in that part of the world. BTW, Uganda is also in the path of totality according to the map; Nigeria is not. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also in the path but they probably won't get a chance to see it, being a part of what is currently the darkest part of Africa.

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