How to view a solar eclipse safely

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You’ve probably heard people buzzing about the upcoming solar eclipse. And for good reason. A celestial occurrence on this scale is a pretty rare event.

Here is what’s about to unfold. For a few hours on Monday, Aug. 21, all of North America will be able to see the moon at least partially darken the sun, according the American Astronomical Society. Those who are in a nearly 70-mile-wide path sweeping from Oregon to South Carolina have a chance to witness a total eclipse. That means that, weather permitting, they will see the moon completely block out the sun for a few minutes. During that brief period, bright planets and stars may even shine in the daytime sky.

Don’t stare at the sun—even for a moment!

If you want to check out the spectacular show, be sure to do so safely.

Looking directly at the eclipse (or the sun on any other day) could severely damage your eyes or even blind you. The name for this damage is solar retinopathy. It occurs when sunlight burns the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye.

Special filters are a must

If you’re thinking ordinary sunglasses will allow you to watch the eclipse safely, think again. Very dark sunglasses will not protect you. Instead, to safely view the partial eclipse, you need special solar filters, which can be found in eclipse glasses or hand-held viewers. When looking for these items, check that the product meets the international standard ISO 12312-2, which should be indicated somewhere on the glasses or viewer.

Here are additional safety tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • Inspect your solar filters before each use. If they’re scratched or damaged, don’t use them.
  • Be sure to follow the instructions for your solar filter.
  • In all the excitement, don’t forget to cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewers before you look at the eclipse. And turn away from the sun before you remove them.
  • Do not use your solar glasses or viewer with a camera, binoculars or telescope. The concentrated sunrays may damage the filter and injure your eyes.
  • Remember to supervise children during eclipse viewings.

The only time you can safely view the sun without protection is when it is completely covered by the moon. But this phase, known as totality, is brief and will occur only along that narrow path where people can see a total eclipse. If you are outside the path of totality, you should never look directly at the eclipse without proper protection.

Another way to enjoy the eclipse

If you don’t have solar eclipse glasses, you can still watch the eclipse safely by looking at an image of it projected onto a surface, such as a wall. You can do this with a device called a pinhole projector. Discover how to make your own pinhole projector with step-by-step instructions.

Then you’ll be ready to enjoy the show!

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