6 Ways to View the Solar Eclipse Without Losing Your Eyes or Breaking the Bank

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On Monday, August, 21st (2017), the US will see it’s 16th total solar eclipse, and the first contiguous since 1918 and while a lot of us we see it in its entirety when it moves across the nation, most will still be able to see a good percentage of it no matter where you’re located.

Be sure to check out NASA’s website dedicated to all things eclipse. Find your location and time for the big event!

While it should be common knowledge, looking directly at the sun can be dangerous and most often than not, will result in partial to total blindness, even during each phase of an eclipse. To that end, I’ve compiled a series of methods you can use to safely watch the three-minute celestial show beginning with the tried and true cardboard box pinhole projector.

Cardboard Box Pinhole Projector. (Image credit timeanddate)

You may have created your own cardboard box pinhole projector in school when you were a kid. It’s a simple design that’s stood the test of time, well at least from 1984, the last time I made one. Regardless, there are a multitude of sites where details and plans can be had if you’ve never made one before.

My pick comes from timeanddate.com and provides a list of materials needed along with plans and tips for using the projector, such as don’t look through the pinhole at the sun and always keep your back to it while viewing.

Solar Eclipse Safety Glasses. (Image credit NASA)

Another great option for viewing the eclipse is to use specially designed cardboard solar glasses that are ISO 12312-2 compliant; this is very important as some of these inexpensive spectacles are junk and offer no eye protection what so ever. These can be found everywhere. However, you may want to stick with reputable retailers such as Walmart, NASA, local science museums, and schools.

The easiest way to tell if your glasses are counterfeit or the real deal is to put them on and look at the clouds on a sunny day- if you see clouds through them, they’re junk. NASA also recommends avoiding those that are more than 3-years old as they may have lost their ability to filter ultraviolet light. Sunglasses are another no-go and will not help to protect against the sun’s harmful rays.

Welding goggles. (get shade 12 or above) Image: Northern Tool

Staying on the glasses trend, welding goggles are another great solution guaranteed to block out sun-searing rays. Just make sure to get at least shade 12.  My dad had a ton of these when I was growing up, as he was an ironworker that often needed to weld steel and other structural metal. Some of the best around can be had for $5 or less depending on the outlet.

Some of the more reputable ones include Northern Tool, Harbor Freight, and Safety Glasses USA. Welding face shields are another popular option and offers the same protection the goggles do, and if you have some artistic talent, you can even transform it into a Boba Fett helmet such as this gentleman did with his.

CNN will live stream the 2017 eclipse in 4K. (Image credit CNN)

Some major news outlets and NASA will be live streaming the event as it happens for those who won’t be able to venture outside or if there’s overcast blocking your view, this is the next best option. In fact, CNN will be offering a 3600 4K stream from multiple camera locations positioned across the country, providing an unprecedented view of the celestial event. You can view the feed directly from CNN’s website or through their mobile app starting at 1 pm ET.

The Exploratorium (in concert with NASA), on the other hand, will be offering up a 4-hour show to herald in the eclipse with live coverage from multiple locations as well as from ground telescopes, airplanes, and high-altitude weather balloons. There will also be scientists interviews, social media chat options, and educational activities for kids.

Celestron Eclipsmart Binoculars. (Image credit Celestron)

For those more daring and can afford to spend a bit more money, you can grab a slightly magnified look at the eclipse using special binoculars equipped with ISO filters such as Celestron’s Eclipsmart Binoculars. The binos come with the company’s Solar Safe filter technology, which blocks out the sun’s IR and UV light along with 99.999% of visible light for that matter.

As far as the requirements go, the Eclipsmart’s ratings are as follows- ISO 12312-2, Filters for Direct Observation of the Sun, EN 1836:2005 + A1:2007 (E) for an E15 Filter for the Direct Observation of the Sun and, AS/NZS 1338.1:2012, Filters for Eye Protectors. Remember to take caution when putting them up to your eyes to focus on the sun; there’s always a split-second of exposure while getting your bearings.

Telescope with solar filter. (Image credit H. Raab via Wikimedia)

Those with telescopes can also get up close and personal with eclipse by using the same/similar type of filters found on binoculars and cameras. Materials such as black polymer solar filter sheets and lenses can be used as long as they are well attached to prevent light from leaking in. You should also make sure to use a filter with the finder scope or targeting device if applicable.

Not only do the filters protect your eyes but also the sensitive lenses (and in some cases electronics) within the scope keeping them from being damaged. These filters/materials range from incredibly affordable, like Thousand Oaks Optical Solar Filter Sheets, to marginally expensive, such as Seymour Solar’s Helios line of filters.

Regardless of which option you decide to go with, remember to always practice safety while looking at Earth’s gas-fired atomic neighbor, otherwise you’ll permanently damage your eyes. Looking at these solar events are rare a treat we will only ever see once or twice in our lives and are a marvel to behold. Take a moment to look around your immediate area if you’re lucky enough to be in a 100% viewing area, it’s other-worldly, like experiencing twilight during the afternoon.

feature image Wide Coronal Eclipse. (via NASA)

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