How to SAFELY View the 2017 Solar Eclipse
As many of you have probably heard, there is a wonderful celestial event happening in less than two weeks. On Monday, 21 August 2017, the continental United States will experience its first total solar eclipse since 1979, and the first viewable from coast to coast since 1918. While only portions of 14 states are included in the path of totality (Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina,) those situated outside the path of totality will be treated to a partial solar eclipse.
The path of totality is that viewing area where the moon completely obscures the sun, a swath about 70 miles wide in this case. Unfortunately, the Eastern Shore of Maryland does not lie in the path of totality this time around. However, the sun will be approximately 80% obscured in our area, making for a very special viewing event.
There have been solar eclipses since the dawn of time. For as long as the moon has revolved around the earth, and the earth has revolved around the sun, human beings have experienced solar eclipses. Solar eclipses, either partial or total, are very special happenings because of their relative scarcity to a single area. Here are some important facts one should employ when viewing the partial solar eclipse in our area.
Even though the vast majority of the sun will be obscured by the moon, it is never advisable to view the sun or a partial solar eclipse with the naked eye, and certainly one should NEVER view the sun or a partial solar eclipse through binoculars or a telescope without solar filtering. Also be advised that certified solar glasses should not be used in conjunction with other viewing devices, such as cameras, binoculars or telescopes, as the unfiltered and focused sunlight can literally burn through the glasses and damage the eye, perhaps permanently. Contrary to popular belief, clouds are not a sufficient solar filter either. Additionally, many people believe that stacking multiple pairs of sunglasses upon one another will act as a sufficient solar filter; nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the years, many ingenious devices have been developed that will allow you to safely view the partial solar eclipse. Solar/eclipse glasses are probably the most common method used to view the sun and solar eclipses. They are engineered to block 100% of the sun’s light. Solar/eclipse glasses also protect the eyes from both ultraviolet and infrared radiation. A simple Internet search will yield a plethora of reputable solar/eclipse glasses merchants. Be sure the glasses are certified prior to your purchase. One can also refer to the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers page for a list of manufacturers and authorized dealers of eclipse glasses verified to be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products.
In lieu of solar/eclipse glasses, welder’s goggles are an excellent alternative. They too protect the eyes from both ultraviolet and infrared radiation, just be sure that the shade value is 14 or greater. Be advised, this type of protection will make the sun appear green in color.
Another viewing option, one that is very inexpensive and low-tech, is known as a Pinhole Viewer/Projector. Take two pieces of white paper or cardboard (paper plates also work surprisingly well) and use a needle, pin, thumbtack, or awl to make a small hole in the center of one of the pieces. The hole needs to be as round and as smooth as possible. With your back towards the Sun, hold the piece of paper with the hole in the center above your shoulder allowing the Sun to shine on the paper. The second sheet of paper will act as a “screen.” Hold it at a distance, and you will see an inverted image of the Sun projected through the pinhole. To make the image of the Sun larger, hold the “screen” further away from the paper with the pinhole. DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN THROUGH THE PINHOLE!
Remember, here on the Eastern Shore, we will not experience a total solar eclipse. Therefore it is imperative that whatever method you choose to view the sun and the partial solar eclipse, it is used for the entire duration of your viewing experience. Damage to the eye from looking directly at the sun or viewing a partial solar eclipse without protection, comes in the form of retinal burns and could also damage the light-sensitive rods and cones. This damage is specifically focused and greatly impacts the central part of the eye. If one is stricken by “eclipse blindness,” it can many times clear up in a matter of months. But don’t take the chance; there are many documented cases where people have suffered a permanent loss of vision.
Be sure to research the best viewing times and places for our area. Unfortunately, the Internet is filled with false and misleading information about this awesome event. The fire department encourages individuals seeking additional information to visit a reputable website like nasa.gov or skyandtelescope.com.