How to view solar eclipses safely

A Simple Guide
A photo from 1999 with six individuals in an outdoor setting in Reims, France (with tents behind them) safely viewing what presumably is a solar eclipse.

Six individuals enjoy a solar eclipse correctly in Reims, France 1999. Photo by William Veerbeek (flickr: william_veerbeek)

So, the big day arrives. You want to see the eclipse with your own two eyeballs. What exactly should one do to ensure you don’t go blind? Well, glad you ask. Hopefully, this guide will simplify the confusion that may be out there. Contrary to what you may read on other sites, it’s not too complicated. There are only two ground  ground rules.

1. Do not look at the sun before and after totality without eye protection.

What’s the totality? It’s the part of the solar eclipse where the moon completely obscures sun. It’s kind of straight-forward when you think about it. Have you ever looked directly at the sun on a normal day? You’re inner child, I presume, is shyly saying yes. Hurts, right? Well, hell yea it hurts. Looking directly at the sun is like focusing the sun’s rays via magnifying glass to burn a piece of paper–except the paper is your retina.

During totality, however, is when the sun’s rays are obscured to a safer level. This will be when the world around you turns darker. You’re welcome to view the eclipse unhindered at this point in time, but be ready to look away or to put your solar filter, be it a solar card or solar eclipse sunglasses, immediately back on whenever the sun’s rays come back and the darkness goes away. When it comes down to it, you’ll only see the sun unprotected during that 180 second moment of totality. For the rest of the eclipse, and the rest of your life whenever you want to look directly at the sun, you’ll use the solar filter.

To be really clear, this should help you understand when its ok to look directly at the total eclipse:

Next, ground rule:

Do not use crappy or non-approved filters, glasses, etc. to look at the sun during the eclipse.

A photo of a man looking at the sun by covering one eye, and placing a compact disc over the other.

A surefire way to go blind. Photo by Jack Shainsky (flickr: ifyr).

There is really only one safe way to look at the sun, and it’s with some sort of ISO 12312-2 international standard tested/certified/approved solar filter. It can be in a card. It can be one of our solar eclipse sunglasses. But, just make sure whatever you buy is from a legitimate company that selling viewing apparatuses made specifically for solar eclipses. Interestingly, there are reports of Chinese-manufactured eclipse glasses not up to ISO snuff, so to speak.

To be 100% percent clear, there are methods that people will use to view the eclipse which are not safe. They are not safe because the filter, or whatever medium that is being used, is not blocking the sun’s rays to an appropriate level. You risk burning the back of your eyeballs and going blind using any of these methods:

  1. Viewing through regular sunglasses
  2. Viewing through polarized sunglasses (interesting, eh? I bet you thought it’d be ok to use polarized sunglasses. Well it’s not.
  3. Viewing through unfiltered or unprotected binoculars or a telescope
  4. Viewing through a camera or any kind of photography filters
  5. Viewing through x-ray film
  6. Viewing through smoked or some kind of semi-opaque glass
  7. Viewing through anything less #14 welder’s glass
  8. Using CDs (in my research this apparently was an option people came up with)
  9. Using the dark, translucent part of a floppy disk (first, I don’t know where you got a floppy disk. Kudos to you. But, do you really think floppy disk manufacturers actually built them thinking, “Hey,maybe one day people will look at solar eclipses with this thing!” They didn’t. So don’t look like a fool using one of these.
An image of a man in a building looking at the sun with internal component of a floppy disk. Seriously.

See. I told you people actually do this! Photo taken by Eugene Sentyaev (flickr: limparam)

An image of individual holding up camera film to view a solar eclipse.

Yet again, we find another unapproved method of viewing a solar eclipse. Photo by muzina_shanghai.

When in doubt, again, don’t use anything that wasn’t made specifically for viewing eclipses. If some guy said it worked last time, if you picked up the materials from home, or if the method seems shady, don’t do it. Going blind will ruin your whole day.  Besides, the sunglasses we offer are inexpensive.

An image of a solar eclipse being viewed through a (perhaps unapproved) solar filter.

Photo of a solar eclipse through a solar filter. Interestingly, the photographer said he bought the solar filter at a hardware store. Taken by Diego Sevilla Ruiz (flickr: dsevilla)

So, what if you’re viewing the eclipse and you’re not in the path of totality or what if it’s a partial eclipse?  Well, then you must never look at the eclipse unprotected. You must view it, at all times, with your solar filter. Like we mentioned earlier, the sun’s light isn’t being blocked by the moon, and you’re at risk.

Finally, as one last safety recommendation:

Make sure your solar filter, solar sunglasses, etc. are still in good condition. No scratches, tears, or any damage whatsoever.

Keep in mind, these tips apply to all solar eclipses, so if you happen to catch the next one in the United States in 2024, be sure to follow these rules.

Now, if you’re interested in other, interesting ways to view solar eclipses, we’ve got recommendations. You can read our blog post about this here.

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