You’ve been hearing about if for weeks or even months – the coming solar eclipse has been big news. It’s exciting, but take time to prepare for the event – your eyesight depends on it!
Though it seems like it wouldn’t hurt to peak at a solar eclipse, doing so without proper eye protection can cause solar retinopathy. This can damage your retina – and it doesn’t hurt, so you might not even realize damage is occurring. So, let’s play it safe and look at how you can enjoy this event without risking eye damage. Then we’ll look at how to safely photograph the event.
Protect Your Eyeballs
Today, we have special viewers available to buy so you can look directly at the eclipse. In the past, you viewed the eclipse indirectly through a pinhole projector, which can be easily made at home. The only time it is safe to look at the eclipse without any of these devices is when the Sun is totally covered by the Moon – but this will be less than three minutes and will only occur in a 70-mile swath across the country. So if you're like the majority of the country, and not in that path, you'll need to keep your glasses on the entire time to view the partial eclipse.
Be Cautious with Solar Viewers
Purchased solar filters are a great way to look directly at the eclipse as it happens. You must, however, be careful not to fall for phony eclipse viewing glasses. Given the increased demand, some companies are putting profits over safety by falsely labeling their viewers as safe.
The American Astronomical Society has put together a list of vendors they approve to provide safe viewing glasses. These glasses should have an ISO rating of 12312-2 (or ISO 12312-2:2015), but the organization also said that with safe viewers you will not be able to see ANYTHING except the Sun itself or an equally bright light source such as a bright LED flashlight or arc welder’s torch. If you can see anything else while wearing the glasses, toss them and save your eyeballs! Even with proper solar viewers, it is recommended to give your eyes a break every few minutes.
Will Sunglasses Work?
Nope, no way, and absolutely not!
For safe viewing of the Sun and a solar eclipse, you must block out much more light than that. Sunglasses are woefully inadequate – solar viewers are thousands of times darker than a normal pair of sunglasses.
Getting Closer with Binoculars or Telescopes
Getting a closer view of the action is a great idea because the Sun is, after all, so far away that a good view of what’s happening is difficult without magnification. Yet you must take care with these devices, which also require solar filters for you to safely view the eclipse. When adding a solar filter to telescopes or binoculars, the filter should always be on the end opposite the eyepiece (on a telescope, it is the large end that points up).
So you’ve read up on solar viewers and filters but want to consider an old-school method? An indirect way to view the eclipse is with technology that is more than 2,000 years old! The camera obscura, more commonly known as the pinhole camera or pinhole projector, provides a simple and budget-friendly way to watch the progression of the eclipse.
Basically, the device is a lightproof box with just a pinhole in it. When light from a scene passes through this hole, it projects an inverted image on the other side of the box. To learn how to make one, follow these directions and tips from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
No matter what method you use, keep eye safety in mind. For those leading a class or group in viewing the eclipse, here is a handy graphic handout from NASA to help young people grasp the dos and don’ts of safe viewing.
We live in a selfie society – most of us will want to capture and share images of the rare event. Most of us will reach for our cell phones to do so.
There is debate if this is a good idea. Many companies, such as Apple, don’t believe photographing the eclipse will damage sensors in cell phones or GoPros because their lenses are small and don’t let in much light. NASA contends that some newer models use larger lenses for better resolution, which could cause problems. If you decide to try it, always protect your eyes with solar viewers.
Do understand that cell phones simply won’t get those stunning shots that you see in the news and from photographers – cell phones weren’t designed to shoot extreme and distant subjects like the Sun or the Moon. This could be the perfect time for a selfie with the eclipse in the background: focus on your participation in this event while avoiding looking at the Sun.
According to NASA, using digital cameras can get you a better shot, especially with 400 to 800 mm zoom lenses. Using auto settings will help prevent too much light from coming in to prevent sensor damage; however, both Canon and Nikon recommend putting a solar filter on the camera lenses just like with telescopes – specifically, full-aperture or off-axis filters. These companies point out that some camera solar filters will not protect your eyes, so you should still wear eye protection.
Also, let’s remember, this is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so consider making your firsthand experience a priority. The totality (or partiality, depending on your location) will be brief. Don’t spend all your time trying to capture the memory; be part of the memory.
For more details about viewing or recording Monday’s eclipse, check out the resource links below.
Have fun and be safe!