Astronomy Essentials

How to watch a solar eclipse safely on April 8

Group of 7 people, adults and children, sit at a picnic table, wearing eclipse glasses and looking up.
Raúl Cortés – a co-author of EarthSky’s daily sun post – is the one on the top right in this photo. He lives in Mexico. But he and his family traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas, to place themselves in the path of the annular eclipse on October 14, 2023. Thank you, Raúl! Read tips below on how to safely watch a solar eclipse.

You learned long ago never to look directly at the sun. Gazing sunward without eye protection can permanently damage your eyes. But there are a variety of ways you can safely view the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse. Plus – in case you’re on the wrong side of Earth for the eclipse, or if you’re clouded out, or if you just like having a livestream going while watching outside – you’ll find some useful links here.

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Online viewing: Eclipse livestreams here

Online viewing isn’t as much fun as live viewing with your family, friends and neighbors. But, nowadays, many watching outside also enjoy a channel tuned to a livestream. And – if the April 8 eclipse takes place when you’re on the wrong part of the world to see it, or when it’s nighttime outside for you – you’ll enjoy watching online. Happy viewing!

TimeandDate live broadcast

Sky viewing: Do NOT use these techniques

First, let’s cover what you shouldn’t do to look at the sun. 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.

Watch a solar eclipse: People safely observing an eclipse, sun high in a dark sky, with one closer silhouetted man next to a telescope.
Fred Espenak created this self-portrait during a 2006 total solar eclipse. He’s using a small telescope equipped with a solar filter for observing the sun safely. Thank you, Fred! Used with permission. Read the ways to watch a solar eclipse – and the sun – safely, below.

DO use these techniques for observing the sun safely

Safe commercial 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 search for sunspots or watch a solar 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. We recommend this article by the masters of do-it-yourself science at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Creating a pinhole camera is another great option. It lets your family and friends get a good view of the sun, too. Here’s our video on how to make a DIY 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.

Use handy things around the house. You can use a colander, a slotted spoon or even criss-cross your fingers and let the sun shine through them to see dozens of little eclipsed suns on the ground.

Shadow on a wooden deck of a hand holding a colander with many small bright crescents projected onto deck.
Use a colander as an easy pinhole projector to safely view a solar eclipse. Image via Marcy Curran.

But don’t go yet. There’s more …

A commercial pinhole projector. There are several versions of this handy and unique device to safely project an image of the sun. The Sunspotter projects an enlarged image of the sun onto a piece of paper, and even shows all but the smallest sunspots. It’s easy to use, plus multiple people can safely watch the eclipse (or see sunspots) at the same time. Of course, for solar eclipses the advancing – and eventual retreating – of the moon’s shadow is easy to see and even photograph.

Wooden device with a semicircle base, a triangular insert projecting a picture of an eclipsed sun on white paper.
Commercial sun projection devices are available as well, such as this Sunspotter. They use an eyepiece to project the sun on a piece of paper to safely watch solar eclipses and to view sunspots. Image via Marcy Curran.

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.

Closeup of smiling young woman's brightly sunlit face. She has on cardboard glasses with black lenses.
Certified eclipse glasses are a safe alternative for viewing.

Local viewing at an astronomy club, park or nature center. We highly recommend this route for any kind of eclipse, any daytime solar viewing, or any nighttime astronomical event. If you watch among other amateur astronomers and casual sky gazers, you’ll have fun, learn about astronomy and get a great view of the objects and events going on in the sky. The NASA Night Sky Network has a list of local astronomy clubs in the U.S. Here’s a search page from which includes worldwide clubs. And here are astronomy clubs and societies affiliated with the Astronomical League, one of the most established confederations of amateur astronomers in the U.S.

Bottom line: Some tips for observing the sun safely during a solar eclipse, plus more links, here.

April 1, 2024
Astronomy Essentials

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