How to SAFELY View the Total Solar Eclipse (Thanks NASA!)

Nasa eclipse image.JPG
(photo credit Nasa)

Next Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to at least a partial eclipse of the sun. A select group of Americans however, will be directly in the path of totality and be treated to a total solar eclipse. This only happens when the moon completely covers the sun, minus the corona. That's the bright ring of light around the moon you see when there's an eclipse in movies. 

Heres a video courtesy of NASA showing the Eclipse's path across the U.S.

From beginning to end the event will last from 2.5 to 3 hours. That's a lot of time spent staring directly into the sun, and therein lies the problem.

The only time it's "safe" to stare directly at the sun is when it is in a total eclipse, and that's only for two and a half to three minutes and only if you're standing in the path of totality. That means it's basically never safe to stare directly at the sun and to assume otherwise could be very dangerous. 

Homemade filters, sunglasses or your Grampy's post-Cataract surgery glasses are not safe to use under any circumstances. This is also the time of year where a lot of snake oil salesmen come out of the woodwork selling "Eclipse glasses" that are nothing more than a piece of colored plastic in a cardboard frame. 

So, how can you tell if the glasses you bought are safe to wear? 

The AAS created a Solar Eclipse Task Force that has compiled a list of reputable manufacturers and retailers of certified eclipse glasses which can be found right HERE. This is great because outside of testing the lenses in a laboratory, there would be no way for a consumer to know if they're going to be protected. 

Here are NASA's guidelines to help you stay safe on August 21st. 

  • Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.

  • Always supervise children using solar filters.

  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter -- do not remove it while looking at the sun.

  • Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical devices.

  • Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer -- the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.

  • Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.

  • If you are within the path of totality remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun's bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.

  • Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.

  • If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.

Now, as mentioned above, do not think you're safe by using a camera, binoculars or telescope, either. The magnification properties of the lenses will not only ruin your camera's sensors, they'll cause significant eye damage. 

You can avoid this if you have the proper filters on your camera, but as photographer Brian Matiash recently discovered (and as first reported on by PetaPixel), even those have to pass the scrutiny of the Solar Eclipse Task Force and a $160 Lee Solar Eclipse filter he purchased on Amazon, may or may not pass, depending on your needs.

lee filterimage.jpg
Amazon is not taking any chances and has issued a full refund to anyone who ordered the filter along with this email:

Important Product Safety Notification Regarding Your Order...

To protect your eyes when viewing the sun or an eclipse, NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) advise you to use solar eclipse glasses or other solar filters from recommended manufacturers," Amazon writes. "Viewing the sun or an eclipse using any other glasses or filters could result in loss of vision or permanent blindness."

Amazon has not received confirmation from the supplier of your order that they sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer. We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse.

Amazon is applying a balance for the purchase price to Your Account (please allow 7-10 days for this to appear on Your Account). There is no need for you to return the product.

This, of course, stirred up quite a bit of controversy (and scared a ton of photographers) but the key statement in Amazon's email, it turned out, is "to view the sun or the eclipse." Because this filter is designed to protect your camera, but NOT your eyes. So if you're using an OPTICAL VIEWFINDER with these filters you could injury your eyes (or worse!). 

LEE Filters recently issued a statement via their Facebook page stating:

To sort out some confusion online, please be advised that the LEE Filters Solar Eclipse filter is NOT intended for viewing the eclipse but rather to photograph the phases of the eclipse, as clearly stated on our website. We highly recommend that you take a look at the directions of use, before the upcoming eclipse! Feel free to comment with any further technical questions, thank you!
In other words, to beat a dead horse to prevent you becoming a blind one, if you have an optical viewfinder, you need eye protection that is separate from your camera's solar filter. (Electric Viewfinder are safe.)

The bottom line is there are safe ways to enjoy the upcoming eclipse that doesn't put your vision in danger. It's really not worth the long term damage you can do to yourself and your camera gear for an image that you can find in abundance online. Like this stunning eclipse from 2009 filmed in the mountains of China.

See what I mean? Reason number# 128 to never leave your house.