The solar eclipse is here Monday. Be sure to watch it safely.
But for those who don’t have special glasses or have the time to make a pinhole box, there’s an alternative. Viewers may even watch the solar eclipse through the selfie mode of their smartphone cameras “Selfie is fine,” Jim Todd, director of Space Science Education at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, told ABC8 News. “You are not looking at the sun in that fashion and you are taking a snapshot really.
On Monday, Americans — especially those in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Tennessee and South Carolina — will see the sky go completely dark for a few minutes during the “Great American Eclipse.” It’s a rare occurrence. In fact, 1918 was the last time a solar eclipse was viewable on a path that crosses the entire country.
Taking actual photos of the eclipse will likely only show un-magnified images of the eclipse, unless the viewer has a telephoto lens for your smartphone, National Aeronautics and Space Administration says. “You have to be careful that you minimize glimpsing the bright sun with your eyes without the benefit of a proper filter,” NASA says. “As for your camera, there is no valid reason why you would want to point your smartphone camera at the brilliant, un-eclipsed sun without putting a filter over the lens.”
NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) — part of the National Science Foundation — are advising people to wear solar eclipse glasses to avoid permanently damaging their eyes. But some third-parties vendors on online retailers, including Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) are selling counterfeit glasses. eBay’s policy teams have been actively monitoring the site for solar-eclipse glasses and removing those that are not compliant with safety standards, the company told MarketWatch.
Consumers should check the terms and conditions of their solar viewers. Rainbow Symphony, a manufacturer of the glasses in Reseda, Calif. has instructions on how to use the glasses they’re selling on Eclipse2017.com to avoid permanent eye damage. As part of the terms and conditions of sale, the company says it’s not liable for any injury or harm. Liability has been an area of contention for many communities, as some schools are closing on Aug. 21 due to the requirement of lengthy liability waivers, even with approved glasses.
The glasses vary dramatically in price. Lunt Solar Systems, an AAS-approved vendor that sells on Amazon, charges $40 for a five-pack. Another approved vendor, Eclipseglasses.com by American Paper Optics, sells eclipse viewing glasses for $4 each, but customers must order a minimum of 25 pairs. The “Great American Eclipse,” an independent online store, sells them for $15. The Federal Trade Commission has also warned consumers not to wear glasses that are more than three years old, “or are wrinkled or scratched, won’t protect your eyes.”
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Here’s how to make sure your pair is the right kind and that you use them correctly on Aug. 21:
Look for an ‘ISO’ number
Safety-compliant glasses should be labeled with “ISO 12312-2,” (sometimes written as ISO 12312-2:2015) an international safety standard for filters to look at the sun directly. Such filters reduce visible sunlight to safe levels, as well as block solar UV and IR radiation. Amazon has stopped selling glasses that have been deemed potentially counterfeit, and will refund customers who bought them, according to the Wall Street Journal. The online retail giant also asked third-party vendors to provide documentation to verify that their products are compliant with international safety standards.
Look for verification documents and authorized vendors
Shoppers should also request verification documents with their purchases, because some counterfeit glasses may have the ISO number printed on them even though they’re fake. Unfortunately, even those documents could be counterfeit, as vendors selling illegitimate products want to make them look as authentic as possible, said Craig Crosby, the publisher of the Counterfeit Report, a consumer advocate and watchdog website. He also suggests buying directly from appropriate manufacturers. AAS has a list of authorized vendors.
Give your eclipse glasses a test run
If you can see anything through the filter aside from the sun or a similarly bright spot — the sun reflected in the mirror, the filament of an unfrosted incandescent light bulb — the eclipse glasses are not safe. Any other light sources, such as a lamp or household light fixtures, should not be seen. Looking at the sun without these filters won’t blind a person, but it will damage the eyes, said Michael Zeiler, creator of “The Great American Eclipse” website and a solar eclipse chaser. Using the proper eyewear will reduce the sunlight by about a factor of one million, he said. Sunglasses don’t cut it.
Use a pinhole projector instead of glasses
View the solar eclipse through a pinhole projection box where you reflect the image of the sun from a punched hole on an index card onto a foil surface.One important note: Viewers shouldn’t look directly at the sun, but rather at the shadows of the sun. You can make a projector from cardboard pizza boxes or shoe boxes. The shadows will show the sun’s crescent shape as it passes through partial phases of the eclipse. Here are online instructions and a finished box.
Wear your eclipse glasses at the right time
For obvious reasons, you don’t actually need the special eclipse glasses during the big moment. Wear them during the pre- and post-eclipse moments, but remember to take them off for the big moment, Zeiler said. Pre- and post-eclipse periods are about an hour long, whereas the total eclipse only lasts a few minutes. “That’s the moment to remove them and enjoy two minutes or so of the most magnificent sight of your life,” he said. That is, sudden darkness during daylight hours.