Three Ways to Watch a Solar Eclipse Safely
Looking at a solar eclipse may be exciting but it's also a threat to your eyes. Looking directly at a solar eclipse is as dangerous as staring at the unblocked sun and can cause damage to the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer at the back of the eye. The damage affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for fine central vision.
Many people think they can protect their eyes by looking through filtered binoculars, sunglasses, neutral density filters, or exposed photographic or radiographic film. However, a retinal burn can occur in spite of all these barriers. In a 1970 solar eclipse in the eastern United States, 145 retinal burns were reported. Forty percent of the injured patients were using protective filters. Parents should caution children not to look directly at the sun. Children are more tempted to watch an eclipse and the damage is usually more severe because the child's natural lens is so clear that it lets more ultraviolet (UV) rays reach the back of the eye.
The good news is, there's a safe way to view an eclipse. Here are three options:
- Attend a display at a planetarium or university astronomy department, where optical instruments are used to project an image of the eclipse from a telescope to a screen for safe viewing.
- Watch the eclipse on television.
- Use the simple pinhole camera: Take two sheets of plain white paper. Make a pinhole in the center of one of the pieces. Then stand with your back to the sun and hold the sheet with the pinhole in front, so that the sun shines through the pinhole and onto the other sheet of paper. An image of the eclipse will be projected onto this second sheet. It is amazing how well you can observe a solar eclipse with this simple device.
View a NASA video of a total solar eclipse. (WMV stream)
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Page updated: Feb. 24, 2014