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How to watch a solar eclipse safely

We’re now a year away from the much-anticipated total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous U.S. since 1979! The photo at top gives a flavor of the experience. It’s a crop of a cool image by eclipse-master Fred Espenak. View the full-sized photo here and be sure to read Fred’s article about the 2017 eclipse. Watching a total eclipse of the sun is a dramatic and awe-inspiring experience. Daylight turns to darkness, and nature falls under a hush. Then, for a few brief minutes, all attention is focused on the sky. Contrary to what some believe, you can view the sun with no eye protection during the totality, when the moon covers the sun completely. But you need eye protection or an indirect viewing system for the partial phases, and it’s not an exaggeration to say you should start planning now. Some tips on safe eclipse viewing methods below.

Do NOT use these techniques

Safe solar filters for a telescope

A home-rigged, indirect viewing method.

Local viewing at astronomy club, park or nature center.

Commercial solar eclipse glasses.

Welder’s glass, #14 or darker.

Online viewing.

Viewing the sun with a safe solar telescope. Image via

Do NOT use these techniques. Whatever you do, never look at the sun directly without a safe filter in place to protect your eyes. Besides your unprotected eyeballs, here are some other things you should not use. Do NOT use sunglasses, polaroid filters, smoked glass, exposed color film, x-ray film, or photographic neutral density filters.

Safe solar filters for a telescope. If you have a ‘scope, you’ll need a safe solar filter on the sky end of it in order to watch an eclipse safely. Do not use a filter on the eyepiece end of your telescope. There’s too much to say about solar filters to include in this article, so we refer you to Fred Espenak’s article on safe solar filters. If you don’t have a ‘scope, you still have plenty of options, such as …

A home-rigged, indirect viewing method. Creating a pinhole camera is another great option, because it lets families and friends get a good view of the transit together. We recommend this article by the masters of do-it-yourself science at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Their article on how to view solar eclipses safely teaches you to make an easy pinhole projector. With it, you can shine the sun’s image onto a flat surface and impress your friends and neighbors while giving everyone (including yourself) a cool experience.

Local viewing at astronomy club, park or nature center. We highly recommend this route for any kind of eclipse, or any astronomical event. If you watch among other amateur astronomers and casual sky gazers, you’ll have fun, learn about astronomy and get the best possible view in your location. SkyandTelescope.com offers a way to search for astronomy clubs in your area. Or try the NASA Night Sky Network, which is another way to search. Here’s a search page from Go-astronomy.com. And here are astronomy clubs and societies affiliated with the Astronomical League, one of this nation’s most established confederations of amateur astronomers.

Commercial solar eclipse glasses. You might find these online or at a local nature center, or museum. Solar eclipse glasses are super easy to use, and they’re sort of cool-looking.

Order your safe solar eclipse glasses from EarthSky

Welder’s glass, #14 or darker. Be sure it is #14 or darker. The great thing about welder’s glass is that it allows you to view an eclipse directly. Plus welder’s glass is a bit more durable than commercial eclipse glasses. If you’re like me, you’ll forget where you put the commercial eclipse glasses by the next eclipse. With the welder’s glass, you can always add it to your rock collection. Search for a local “welding supply” company.

Online viewing. This method will be the one of choice for many for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse. It’s a good way to watch if the eclipse takes place when it’s nighttime outside for you, or if you’re in the wrong part of the world to see the eclipse. The disadvantage here is that you won’t have the fun of seeing the event with your family, friends and neighbors. And you won’t get the full experience of a total solar eclipse, which, trust me, is nothing short of mind-blowing. But any view of the eclipse is better than none. As the time draws near for the August 21, 2017 eclipse, we’ll be publishing some online options.

Big fun in Austin, Texas at the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse when an EarthSky employee passed out solar eclipse glasses at a local restaurant.

Viewing the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse through welder's glass

Bottom line: Get ready! The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 is now just one year away. Some safe solar eclipse viewing techniques, tips and links here.

Deborah Byrd

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