If you’re as excited about the 2017 Solar Eclipse that will be passing over the United States on August 21 as I am, then you’ve likely already taken the day off work, claimed your spot with the best view of the sky, and sent out the invitations to your eclipse viewing party (that none of you have responded to…) but you may have overlooked the most obvious part of the day: How in the hell are you going to look at the damn thing?
You can’t just stare at the eclipse unless you’re in one of the lucky areas that will be observing a total eclipse, and even then you can only look for the brief moment the Moon is completely blocking the Sun. The rest of the country, like up here in New Hampshire, will only be gifted with a partial solar eclipse and won’t be given a single second that it’s safe to plant our naked eyes on it.
So what do you do? Put a giant cardboard box on your dome! No, really. Building a solar eclipse pinhole viewer is easy, fun, and a great way to safely see the motion of the Moon between us and the Sun. Check out the diagram below, and see the step-by-step instructions on TimeandDate.com:
Maybe putting a giant box on your noggin doesn’t seem like the coolest way to observe the solar eclipse. To that, I have two things to say. First, it’s science. Science is already cool enough. Second, it beats going blind. The sun puts out a crazy amount of radiation that has no problem traversing the nearly 93 million miles of space and makes it all the way down to us here at ground level. This radiation isn’t just in the form of light, which is about 99% of what the Sun is spitting out. The other 1% is everything from ultraviolet radiation with wavelengths only a couple hundred nanometers in length to radio waves that measure out over a meter in wavelength. These higher-frequency forms of radiation are what cook your eyeballs from the inside out. This can happen even when the sun is mostly occluded and only a tiny portion of it is still visible. Even in total eclipse locations, those unfamiliar with the length of it may be taken by surprise when the sun peeks out from the other side, causing permanent vision damage.
But maybe you’re not looking to don the box cowl. There are other options. Welder’s goggles work great in a pinch, but make sure the shade you’re using is at least a 14 or 15. Likewise, special glasses can be purchased from a variety of retailers online that block all the harmful radiation and 99% of visible light. If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the eclipse, snap a sun filter on the business end of your telescope and behold. Just make sure you’re using the sun filter on the larger end of the telescope and not on the eyepiece at the rear. The sunlight blasting into the optics will act like a laser and could actually burn right through your filter and likewise, your eye.
Of course, you can always find the images taken by professional astrophotographers from coast to coast after the event, and surely it’s going to be some of the biggest news in the weeks that precede it. Until then, there’s plenty of time to get your viewers in order, get your snacks ready and respond to your damned invite.
Plus ones are cool, too.