The excitement is sky-high for the upcoming total solar eclipse that is due to occur on August 21, 2017, and along with major events such as this come safety concerns regarding observers’ eyesight, as looking directly at the sun — even when much of it is blocked as it is over the duration of an eclipse — can cause permanent damage to the viewer’s eyes.
Unfortunately, along with the high-quality safety viewers that are available to allow safe viewing of the eclipse, the market has also been hit with a multitude of cheap knockoffs that haven’t been made to proper safety standards, being sold by individuals looking to make a quick buck, that can’t be guaranteed to have been made to proper safety standard.
2017’s eclipse is special in that it will stretch from coast to coast across the contiguous United States, an event that hasn’t happened since 1918. Its path will start off of the west coast of Oregon starting at 9:06 a.m. PDT, and will travel east to conclude on the South Carolina coast at 4:06 p.m. EDT.
Viewing the sun requires the use of specialized eclipse glasses — eyewear with heavily-filtered lenses designed to dampen the sun’s blinding rays. But some products on the market are cheap counterfeits that haven’t passed the proper safety tests.
"It’s a bunch of unscrupulous people cashing in on the eclipse and putting public safety at risk," cautions Richard Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society (AAS). The AAS has published a list of manufacturers that produce eyewear that conforms to the ISO 12312-2 international safety standards required for safe eclipse viewing.
Alternatively, there are ways to view the eclipse indirectly, such as using a simple-to-make pinhole viewer that makes use of two pieces of white cardboard, with the sun projected onto one of the cards through a small hole punched through the other. NASA has also produced an instructional video showing how to build a pinhole projector using a cereal box.
Many observers will take to recording the event using cell phones and video cameras, but popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is urging people to put down the tech, and experience the eclipse first-hand (with the proper safety equipment, of course). Tyson says that merely viewing the event through a camera "would be to not live as full a life as you could have."
Watching an event through a device like a cell phone or a camera can psychologically distance the viewer from what’s going on, dulling the experience over what it could have been if it had been witnessed directly instead.
"I get it — you want to look at it later. But then you would not have experienced it in the moment," urges Tyson.
And remember, there will be countless professional photographers and videographers that will be recording the eclipse to begin with, meaning high-quality recordings from a multitude of angles and locations will be available. So put down the phone, put on your safety viewer, and enjoy the show!
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