Solar eclipse safety: how to watch without ruining your eyes


BANGOR - On August 21 we will be able to witness a solar eclipse. While this phenomenon is a must-see, you want to make sure you're watching safely.

"You only get one set of eyes, you don't want to trash them," said Michael Johnson, M.D., an eye surgeon at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

Most of us know not to look directly into the sun. The same rules apply for a solar eclipse.

"The sun is no more powerful on the day of an eclipse than any other day of the year," said Shawn Laatsch, director of the Emera Astronomy Center at the University of Maine. "It's just that people want to see what's happening because as the moon starts to cover the sun, the sky starts to change some."

Around here, we'll only be seeing a partial solar eclipse, which means you should never be looking at it with your naked eye.

"Even just a few seconds of looking at a solar eclipse can permanently damage the retina," said Johnson.

The only safe way to directly view an eclipse is with a pair of special shades.

"The glasses filter out all but one millionth of the light across the entire magnetic spectrum," Johnson said.

If you're wearing a pair of these solar-filtering glasses you can look directly at the sun without harming your eyes. But if you're going to be getting a pair for the eclipse, you want to make sure they're the real deal.

"There have been some online sources that haven't been reputable," said Laatsch. "Normally they'll have a stamp on the inside that will tell you the ISO level."

That ISO level, 12312-2, is what you're looking for. Any other eye wear could cause permanent, irreversible damage to your eye.

"So regular sunglasses won't do the trick, you can't wear regular sunglasses," Johnson said.

Both NASA and the American Astronomical Society have lists of sources where you can buy the right glasses. You can also pick up a pair from the Bangor Public Library or at the Emera Astronomy Center.

"It's going to be just beautiful and amazing to behold, but just do it safely, have fun," said Johnson.

The Emera Astronomy Center and the Bangor Public Library will partner up for a lecture on August 16 about this year's eclipse, where glasses will be given out for free.


Other ways to view the solar eclipse:

- You can create a "waffle filter" by using your hands with fingers stretched apart placed over each other. Stand with you back to the sun and create this grid-like filter with your hands to see mini projections of the eclipse on the ground.

- A pinhole projection method would also work. Take a piece of cardboard and cut a small hole in it. Lay a sheet of white paper on the ground. Stand with your back facing the sun and let the light filter through the hole. This will create a projection of the eclipse onto a piece of paper on the ground.

- The Emera Astronomy Center will have a variety of telescopes with special filters to view the event.


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