Solar Eclipse Glasses Alternatives: What Are Safe Possibilities?

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Getty A total solar eclipse is pictured from the city of Ternate, in Indonesia's Maluku Islands, on March 9, 2016.

If you don’t have solar eclipse glasses, you’re not alone. Many people couldn’t find them because retailers sold out pretty quickly. Buying solar eclipse glasses online or through social media is risky because fakes have flooded the market.

Are there any alternatives? Is there anything else you can use?

Remember: NASA reports that you can incur serious retinal damage to your eyes if you look directly at the sun during a solar eclipse.

NASA stresses that safety should be paramount. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” (example shown at left) or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight,” the space agency reports.

Here’s what you need to know:


Some Welding Glasses Might Be Safe, But Most Are Not & Be Very Careful to Follow NASA’s Safety Rules

GettyA total solar eclipse is seen from Palembang city on March 9, 2016 in Palembang, South Sumatra province, Indonesia.

Welding glasses, masks and helmets are a possibility a lot of people are considering. There are several issues with this idea, however. For one, a lot of stores have sold out of them too. For another, most welding glasses and helmets are not safe to watch the solar eclipse, according to NASA.

This is what NASA says about using welding glasses or helmets to watch the eclipse on its safety website:

Experts suggests that one widely available filter for safe solar viewing is welders glass of sufficiently high number. The only ones that are safe for direct viewing of the Sun with your eyes are those of Shade 12 or higher. These are much darker than the filters used for most kinds of welding. If you have an old welder’s helmet around the house and are thinking of using it to view the Sun, make sure you know the filter’s shade number. If it’s less than 12 (and it probably is), don’t even think about using it to look at the Sun. Many people find the Sun too bright even in a Shade 12 filter, and some find the Sun too dim in a Shade 14 filter — but Shade 13 filters are uncommon and can be hard to find.

According to 11Alive, an Atlanta television station, “Most welding glasses are not strong enough to keep your eyes safe, if you are watching the eclipse with them.”

The television station also reported, “NASA recommends only using the darkest shades, 12 or higher, to view the eclipse. All the hardware stores we talked to were sold out of shades as low as shade 4.”

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USA Today notes, “Shade 14 lenses are available through Amazon.com. Prices range from $12.99 for a 2-inch-by-4.25-inch lens to $9.99 for a 50mm circular welding lens.”


What You Can’t Do

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GettyYou will need special solar eclipse glasses to see the total solar eclipse in North Platte, Nebraska.

Forget about regular sunglasses. They provide nowhere near the protection your eyes need and would be extremely dangerous, according to NASA. It’s just as dangerous to look at the eclipse through binoculars, a telescope, or camera without a proper solar eclipse filter.


Find a Local Event

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Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesPairs of free solar eclipse glasses sit on display at a Warby Parker store on August 11, 2017 in New York City. To view the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21 eye protection is essential. The designer eyeglass store expects to give out thousands of pairs of the glasses before the event.

Forget the commercial retailers at this point. Call your local library, museum, or university. Many of them bought solar eclipse glasses in bulk and are hosting viewing parties open to the public.

Here’s NASA’s list of events.

Here’s the list from American Eclipse.com.


The Pinhole Projection Method

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GettyA partial solar eclipse in 2016.

What else can you do? There are some fun DIY alternatives. NASA suggests that you try alternative method of the pinhole projection. This allows you to enjoy the majestic nature of the solar eclipse without looking directly at the sun.

“An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun is pinhole projection (link is external). For example, cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other, creating a waffle pattern. With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground,” the NASA safety website says.

“The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse. Or just look at the shadow of a leafy tree during the partial eclipse; you’ll see the ground dappled with crescent Suns projected by the tiny spaces between the leaves.”


Use a Cereal Box (But, Again, Don’t Look Directly at the Sun)

It’s possible to make a viewing box that doesn’t require you to look directly at the sun.

Here are instructions for how to make a solar eclipse viewing box (again, you don’t look directly at the sun with it), using a shoebox or cereal box: