How to Watch This Month’s Total Solar Eclipse and Not Go Blind

August 7, 2017

12:20 pm

On Monday, August 21st, America will be front and center for the next total solar eclipse. This means that for anyone that lives within the umbra, the shadowy path created by the moon, will get to fully experience this historic event. For those outside of the path, you’ll see some of the effects from the eclipse. 

If you’re still not sure if you live near the path of totality or umbra or when the best time is to view the eclipse, this interactive map will have you covered. Also, a redditor comprised a map of Google searches related to the eclipse based on geographic location map up along the umbra’s path, which is pretty interesting.

Just like any other day, viewing the sun with the naked eye is a bad idea, and there is only about a two minute window where you can view it directly. Fear not though, there are still several total solar eclipses set to hit the US in the future, so if you are not in the umbra there may be other opportunities. According to Washington Post’s tool, if you were born in 1985 and lived to be 100, there are still 46 more total solar eclipses that will occur in your lifetime (only 8 or so in the U.S.).

Solar Filter Glasses

Before the total eclipse occurs there will be a transition period (partial eclipse) where the moon begins to pass in front of the sun. As this occurs you can wear special solar filter glasses to watch this part prior to totality where you can view it with the naked eye.

According to NASA these solar filter glasses will allow people in the path of totality to view the eclipse leading up to and right after the moon completes fully covering the sun.

“The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”

PS, be careful where you buy your filter glasses from. Apparently fake versions of them have flooded the market. Fortunately if you live anywhere in the path of totality there is a good chance every grocery, gas station, and liquor store will be selling them. At a minimum, make sure it has a ISO 12312-2 certification (like the ones sold here).

Here is a list of reputable solar glasses vendors from NASA

Homemade Pinhole or Sun Projector

For those not wanting to risk looking directly at the sun, filter or not, the next best option is by either buying a pinhole or sun projector or simply making one yourself. These can be anything from using two pieces of cardboard and a pin or thumbtack. You can find an example here on how to build a simple projector.

NASA’s State 3D Pinhole Projector

If you have access to a 3D printer or use one of the print on demand sites NASA has developed 3D pinhole projects in the shape of each U.S. state. This includes Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the entire nation, and of course Washington D.C. They offer .stl files for each, so all you need is a tool like Cura to adjust it to your 3D printer and some time. According to Cura’s system it will take about 6 hours to create the South Carolina shaped pinhole projector.

Photographing the Eclipse

Surprise! You can’t actually just stare at the partial eclipse through a viewfinder or telescope unless you want to go blind. If you plan on capturing the total solar eclipse, there are numerous guides such as this one and this one to help you identify the right equipment and filters you’ll need. If you are in the umbra though, don’t forget to actually enjoy the eclipse as it occurs.

Read more about outer space on TechCo

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@)elliotvolkman.com or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.

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