Tag: solar eclipse

Viewing the Solar Eclipse – Hype or Hazard

A total solar eclipse is a big deal, although it seems like it might be a bigger deal for some people than it is for others.

What kind of eclipse will you be able to see on August 21st? Map courtesy of NASA.
What kind of eclipse will you be able to see on August 21st? Map courtesy of NASA.

It does start to seem like a bigger deal the more you learn about it…

Solar Eclipse HYPE

Still, there is a lot of hype surrounding the upcoming solar eclipse in the United States.

“Observing a total solar eclipse is a life-changing event. It challenges everything you conceive of as normal.”

Sean Lindsay on the Eclipse hype

Do you buy it?

  • will looking at the eclipse make you go blind?
  • will seeing the eclipse change your life?
  • will you regret missing the eclipse for the rest of your life?

While viewing the eclipse won’t make you go blind, at least not instantaneously, what about all of the hype about how important an event the eclipse is to view? That part has to be true, right?

“A partial eclipse is interesting but forgettable, while a total eclipse is a memorable, life-changing event which burns itself into memory – and never fades. And so we, who have seen this sight, ask you to join us on this momentous day, and do everything you possibly can to see it with us. But you must remember that “close” is not close enough; in order to see the eclipse in all its glory, you simply must…”

“Close” is NOT close enough!

It is for some people. And you might not know if you or your kids are that type of person unless you go and see the eclipse! In totality!

Solar Eclipse HAZARD

  • seeing the eclipse without protection will damage your eyes

We all know that you shouldn’t look directly at the sun or your eyes will get damaged.

And in most cases, you can’t.

It hurts to look at the sun. You’re pupils will constrict. You will blink a lot. And you will very quickly turn away.

At least in normal circumstances.

A solar eclipse is not a normal circumstance.

Since most of the sun is covered, you could likely stare at it (but definitely shouldn’t) and get a good long look at the eclipse. Unfortunately, the part that isn’t covered will be painlessly damaging your eyes, leading to burns on your retina and solar retinopathy.

But isn’t all of the sun covered in a total solar eclipse?

“During the very brief time the sun is in total solar eclipse it is safe to look at it, but do so with caution. Even during the total solar eclipse, the total eclipse may last only a short period of time, and if you are looking towards the sun as the moon moves away from blocking the sun, you might get a solar burn on your retina which can cause permanent damage to your eyes.”

Prevent Blindness America

Yes, but only for a very short time and only if you are in the path of totality.

During totality, it is safe to take your eclipse glasses off and look at the eclipse, being aware that totality may last only a minute or two.

This diamond ring means that the eclipse is not at totality yet and you still need eye protection to look at the sun.
This diamond ring means that the eclipse is not at totality yet and you still need eye protection to look at the sun. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Again, you must be very sure that you are inside the path of totality for a chance at looking at the eclipse without protection – a 70-mile wide band from central Oregon through South Carolina.

If you are not in this relatively narrow band, you will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse, but at no time will it be safe to view the eclipse without protection.

Are you going to be able to see a total or partial eclipse on August 21st?
Are you going to be able to see a total or partial eclipse on August 21st?

Remember that even if you live in or have traveled to a spot inside the path of totality, the total eclipse itself will only last a few minutes.

The whole eclipse will last much longer though.

From the start of the eclipse, to maximum eclipse, to the end of the eclipse, you might be looking at a three hour event. That’s a lot of time to be at risk of looking at the sun outside of totality and getting eye damage if you aren’t wearing protection.

Safely Viewing the Solar Eclipse

What kind of protection do you need to safely view a solar eclipse.

Fortunately, you have a lot of options.

This solar eclipse viewing protection can include using:

  • solar filters, including ISO 12312-2 compliant eclipse glasses that have been sold online in packs of 5 or 10 (but including some that have been recalled), handheld solar viewers,  and full aperature solar filters for cameras and telescopes
  • a pin-hole viewer that you can easily make yourself with something as common as a cereal box
  • a 2D or 3D printable pinhole projector
  • a solar viewing projector using binoculars or a telescope (not looking through the telescope itself though, unless it had a proper solar filter!)
  • No. 13 or 14 welder’s glasses

But unless you are building a pin-hole viewer or are going to an official eclipse viewing event, be sure your protection is really going to protect your child’s eyes. Are the eclipse glasses you ordered fake, recalled, scratched, or damaged? Then don’t use them.

And make sure younger children are well supervised during the entire eclipse, so that they don’t look at the eclipse at any time that you are outside the time that you are in totality.

Some people will have a better chance of viewing a total solar eclipse in 2024.
Some people will have a better chance of viewing a total solar eclipse in 2024.

What if they miss it?

They won’t have to wait too long for the next total solar eclipse. Another one is headed our way in 2024.

What to Know About Safely Viewing the Solar Eclipse

I don’t know if it will change your child’s life, but there is no good reason to let them miss this total solar eclipse (or partial eclipse if you aren’t in the path of totality), as long as you take some very simple steps to make sure they view it safely.

More About Safely Viewing the Solar Eclipse