Photo By John Mahony
Photo By John Mahony
The on August 21st the US will have its first total eclipse in the mainland in almost 40 years!.  Weather permitting, it will be an awesome sight and we encourage everyone to see it… safely.

What does safely mean?  It means observing it without resorting to badly designed viewing suggestions from people or sites that don't really know.  There are many stories on the internet and a few of them are true.  When it comes to solar viewing, trust common sense and reliable sites that are not selling you anything.  If you are unsure about our motives (which really are your safely enjoying a wonderous sight), trust NASA!  They have a site with lots of information and resources to plan your viewing.  In fact they have a safety document with facts and resources.

"But I've heard ____."  There are many myths about viewing solar eclipses.  A few are true, many are garbage.  A few that we've heard include:
“Don’t go outside… you’ll get XXX!” (Fill in your favorite disease.)  You won’t get cancer or any other disease going outside than you’d get on any other day outside.
“You can look at it through XXX.”  (Fill in Poptart wrappers, thin pane of glass or anything else.)  If it’s not rated for looking at the Sun, then it really isn’t safe.  A thin pane of glass might block the infrared rays, but does nothing for the intensity nor the UV rays.  Several layers of Poptart wrappers may dim the Sun enough so it’s not too intense, but does not handle the UV or infrared rays.
“You can look at it with welders glasses.”  This myth is somewhat true.  Welders glasses will block all of the rays to a safe level.  That said, you need welders glass #14 or darker to safely observe the sun.  Lighter numbers will not protect you sufficiently from eye damage so make sure you have the right grade of welders glass.
“If you just glimpse the sun, it’s safe.”  Treat the intensity of the Sun with respect.  While you might be able to get away with it, there is no known ‘safe glimpse time’.  If you want to glimpse it, look down!  (See viewing suggestions below…)
“I shouldn’t let my children go out during the eclipse because XXX.”  This myth is somewhat true.  Children are curious and need to learn.  If you don’t explain, then they will try to learn for themselves.  You need to explain to them that they should not look at the Sun but look at other things (such as under trees).  You can turn this into a game!  “Where did you find an image of the Sun?  What did it look like?  Can you draw it? …”  If you feel you must keep them in, then so be it.  They’ll miss out on a great opportunity.
"I have an old telescope with a solar filter that screws into the eyepiece, it's safe right?"  Some of the old cheap telescopes used to come with this type of filter.  (Even a few of the 'better' telescopes used to.)  The problem with these filters is that all of the energy of the Sun is being concentrated onto that small filter.  It will heat up and eventually crack and let the concentracted heat and light from the Sun try to get into your eye.  You may have been luck with this before, but for your own safety PLEASE GET RID OF IT!  You cannot blink fast enough to protect your eye from permanent damage.
With that in mind, we suggest the following:
Most (if not all) astronomy clubs will have public viewing sessions.  Check with your local club to see where and when they will be setup.  From start to end, the eclipse lasts for several hours when viewed with the right equipment.
Look under a bush/tree and you will find that the leave might form a series of pin-hole cameras and project the image of the Sun onto the ground!  This is what the ground looked like during the annular eclipse that occured in 1994.
Create a pin-hole camera.  Search for building a pin-hold camera and you’ll find lots of examples.  After you’ve built the camera, you can safely view the eclipse by looking at the projection within the box!  The projection will not harm your eyes.  A great site detailing how to build such a camera using several techniques is
Check the internet on the day.  Many sites will be streaming views of the eclipse.  That being said, so many sites will be streaming and so many people viewing that you may have problems getting connected or staying connected to the site.  (You may have very slow connections that day for all sites in the United State!)  If that is your plan, you might wait a couple of days before looking for videos.  Many will undoubtedly be taking the whole eclipse and making a compressed video of it lasting only a couple of minutes.  Additionally, you will be hard pressed to find any images from totality showing the Sun’s atmosphere.  Those will most likely be posted in a few days afterwards.