The US will be treated to a very rare total eclipse on August 21st, and people are still scrambling to make sure they’ll be able to experience this event. However, staring at the sun is a bad idea unless you’ve taken the proper precautions. No matter where you are in the US, the sun will be at least partially eclipsed, so there will be the temptation to look up. Here’s how you do that safely.
The first thing you need to figure out is where and when the eclipse will happen in your area, and what sort of eclipse you’ll see. For most of America, it will be a 60-90 percent eclipse. That’s still an incredible sight, but only a narrow swath of the country will get the total eclipse — see below for a map of the path of totality. It passes through the states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, a tiny sliver of Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. The path of totality is only about 70 miles wide, so many Americans have made plans to travel in order to see it.
If you’re in one of the areas set to experience a total eclipse, you’re in for a real treat. A total eclipse is only about as bright as the full moon, so it’s safe to look at it with the naked eye. However, all other phases of the eclipse are far too bright for you to look at directly. That’s why you need appropriate eyewear that has been verified compliant with the ISO 12312-2 standard. That means it filters out 99.9 percent of light. Again, the sun is really bright, so you can see the partial phases of the eclipse perfectly well with these devices.
Contrary to popular belief, the sun isn’t any brighter during a partial eclipse. It’s just that people rarely have any desire to stare at the sun for any length of time. Thus, all the warnings about not staring at the sun during an eclipse.
So, you can’t look at the eclipse unprotected for only a few minutes if you’re in the right area. Check the NASA eclipse map to find out when that’ll be. The rest of the time, you need eclipse glasses to if you’re going to look up. If you don’t already have the glasses, you’re going to have problems. All the online shops listed by NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) as reputable vendors of ISO-compliant eclipse glasses are sold out or have shipping timelines after the August 21st eclipse. There are a few listing that are borderline and might arrive in time, but the glasses aren’t cheap, and you’d have to pay a ton for fast shipping — probably at least $ 50-60 total, but there is some price gouging happening online, too.
Another option is to try and buy the glasses in real life. Retail chains like Best Buy, Lowe’s, Walmart, 7-Eleven, and Toys “R” Us have been stocking eclipse glasses. However, we called a few locations, and none of them had any left. You can still check around your area by contacting the retailers listed on the AAS website. There are also some free glasses available at public libraries courtesy of NASA. There’s a map of participating locations online, but many of these libraries have given out all they have. As a backup, you can use the pinhole method to get a peek at the eclipse.
You are going to need to do some scrounging around if you don’t already have proper eclipse glasses. Just make certain before you go staring at the sun that your eyewear has the ISO logo and a notice about ISO 12312-2 compliance.