Solar eclipse 2024: How to watch safely, where to get solar viewers

People across the country are getting excited at the opportunity to see a solar eclipse on April 8. And while most are eager to catch a glimpse of the eclipse, officials are urging caution — as not using proper precautions could cause serious injury.

WPXI gathered the safety information you need, so you can watch the eclipse without worry.

How to safely view the solar eclipse

According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), there is only one safe way to directly look at the sun during a solar eclipse while it’s not totally covered by the moon: through solar eclipse glasses or handheld viewers.

These glasses are not sunglasses, according to NASA the filters are thousands of times darker and are supposed to comply with an international safety standard. If you don’t wear these glasses, you’re risking serious damage to your eyes.

The only instance where people can look at the sun directly during the solar eclipse is within the narrow path of “totality.” In that path, the moon will fully cover the sun for a few minutes — and that’s the only time when it’s safe to take a look without the eclipse glasses.

If you plan to look at the eclipse through a camera lens (including phone camera), telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device — the solar viewers will not be enough to protect your eyes. The devices require solar filters that go over the device’s aperture to prevent eye injuries, and with those proper filters, you don’t need eclipse glasses at all. The American Astronomical Society and NASA stress seeking the advice of an astronomer before using a solar filter on an optical device.

Click here to find a list of companies that supply solar filters for telescopes, binoculars and cameras (including smartphone cameras).

Where to get solar viewers and how to tell if they’re safe

Solar viewers are a hot commodity both online and in retail stores across the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean they’re actually safe to use.

These special glasses should comply with ISO 12312-2, an international safety standard for filters that allow for the direct viewing of the sun. But, the American Astronomical Society warns some counterfeit glasses claim they meet the standard without being tested properly — an issue that also popped up during the total solar eclipse in 2017.

For this reason, AAS encourages people to avoid searching for eclipse glasses on online retailers like Amazon and Temu, and purchase glasses from the vendor with the lowest price.

AAS also created a list of companies that manufacture or import solar viewers that it deemed safe through a task force. For each of the sellers on the list, AAS says it confirmed three things:

  1. The identity of the manufacturer,

  2. The manufacturer’s viewers have been tested for compliance with the ISO 12312-2 standard by a lab properly accredited to do so,

  3. The viewers meet the standard’s transmittance requirements across the parts of the spectrum to which our eyes are at risk from overly bright light.

Click here to view the list.

AAS says solar viewers given out by astronomers, astronomical organizations, science museums or planetariums are “almost certainly” complaint glasses.

Some libraries across the county, including in the Pittsburgh area, have eclipse glasses to distribute for free. Click here to see a map of participating libraries.

How to properly wear solar viewers

Solar viewers can only protect your eyes when used properly. This list contains best practices from AAS for the use of solar glasses.

  • Inspect solar viewers before use and discard them if they’re scratched, punctured, torn or damaged.

  • Wear normal glasses beneath solar viewers

  • Cover your eyes with the solar filter before looking at the sun. Turn away from the sun before removing the filter

  • Supervise children who are using solar filters

How to safely watch the solar eclipse indirectly

If you’re unable to get eclipse glasses, there’s still a way you can enjoy the solar eclipse — by making a pinhole projector to see it indirectly. The video from NASA below explains how to make the projector with a few simple supplies.

Skin safety

The bright sun during the eclipse also poses a risk for your skin, especially if you’re standing outside for hours to watch the full event. NASA encourages eclipse watchers to wear sunscreen and protective clothing to prevent skin damage. Click here to read more tips from the FDA.

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