We get it. You waited until the day before the solar eclipse to get solar eclipse glasses and now a lot of major retailers are sold out of them.
The solar eclipse of 2017 arrives on August 21. Retailers that offered solar eclipse glasses are sold out all over the country, and it’s probably too late to get them delivered in time for Monday anyway.
That has many people turning to online sites like eBay, Craigslist, and social media, which may be your only hope at this point because you can pick up the glasses on the spot in your own community in some cases. However, that brings up other issues (beyond the always present safety concerns of meeting strangers; only do so in a public place with people around, like a restaurant.)
How can you look for fakes? This can be tricky to do because some people fake the markings that indicate certification. This is critically important because, according to NASA, you could cause serious damage to your eyes if you look at a solar eclipse without proper eye protection. And, no, regular sunglasses won’t work.
You can start with getting recent glasses that were sold at a retailer on the American Astronomical Society list of reputable vendors (although be aware that people can fake such things.)
Writes NASA of the AAS list: “Refer to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers (link is external) page for a list of manufacturers and authorized dealers of eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers verified to be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products.”
Why not just go straight to one of those retailers and skip Craigslist? You could try, but probably won’t have much luck at this stage. The American Astronomical Society does say on its website that most of the retailers on its list are sold out.
Retailers on the American Astronomical Society’s list of approved retailers are Love’s Travel Stops, 7-Eleven are “Bi-Mart, Casey’s General Store, Hobby Town, Kirklands, London Drugs [sold out], Lowe’s, Maverik, McDonald’s (Oregon only), Pilot/Flying J, Toys “R” Us [sold out], and Walmart.”
There have been problems with unsafe glasses flooding the market. The page also has a list of other online vendors you could try, but at this point getting the glasses shipped to you in time can be tricky. Some online vendors currently advertising overnight shipping report they are sold out of the product once you go to their websites.
Here is how to check if solar eclipse glasses are, in fact, certified. NASA refers people to the American Astronomical Society, which has been working rigorously to help people spot uncertified fakes. The site recommends, “How do you know if your eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers are truly safe? You need to know that they meet the ISO 12312-2 (sometimes written as ISO 12312-2:2015) international safety standard. Filters that are ISO 12312-2 compliant not only reduce visible sunlight to safe and comfortable levels but also block solar UV and IR radiation.” However, the issue is that some people copy the codes and fake it.
According to AAS, that’s why it developed the list of reputable vendors and retailers. “We’ve checked manufacturers’ ISO paperwork to make sure it’s complete and that it comes from a recognized, accredited testing facility, and we’ve personally examined manufacturers’ products. We’ve asked manufacturers to identify their authorized resellers, and we’ve asked dealers to identify the source of the products they’re selling. Only when everything checks out do we add a vendor to our listing,” the site explains. “If we don’t list a supplier, that doesn’t mean their products are unsafe — only that we have no knowledge of them or that we haven’t convinced ourselves they are safe.” (But, yes, that gets you back to the problem of so many glasses being sold out.)
There are some other clues as to whether the glasses are good, but you need to get them first to know. “How can you tell if your solar viewer is not safe? You shouldn’t be able to see anything through a safe solar filter except the Sun itself or something comparably bright, such as the Sun reflected in a mirror, a sunglint off shiny metal, the hot filament of an unfrosted incandescent light bulb, a bright halogen light bulb, a bright-white LED bulb (including the flashlight on your smartphone), a bare compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb, or an arc-welding torch. All such sources (except perhaps the welding torch) should appear quite dim through a solar viewer. If you can see shaded lamps or other common household light fixtures (not bare bulbs) of more ordinary brightness through your eclipse glasses or handheld viewer, and you’re not sure the product came from a reputable vendor, it’s no good,” AAS explains.
You can read more about AAS’ certification efforts and suggestions here.
According to AAS, “Ordinary sunglasses (or multiple pairs of sunglasses), neutral density or polarizing filters (such as those made for camera lenses), smoked glass, photographic or X-ray film (unexposed, exposed, or developed), “space blankets,” potato-chip bags, DVDs, and any other materials you may have heard about for solar viewing are not safe.”
The site adds that you should also follow these tips: “If the filters are torn, scratched, or punctured, discard them. If the filters are coming loose from their cardboard or plastic frames, discard them.”
Can you find solar eclipse glasses on Craigslist or eBay?
Yes, lots and lots of them, and some are touting certification, but, again, that doesn’t mean they didn’t just copy the codes and fake it.
Here’s the link with a list of all Craigslist sites in America so you can see if there is one near you. If there is, click on that site, and type in “solar eclipse glasses” in the search box on the left. That’s what we did for Chicago. We found 169 entries. One person was even selling 20 of the glasses for $2,000, but you could also find the glasses for $10. In New York, we found 75 entries. And so forth. We checked some smaller cities. Milwaukee, Wisconsin? 16 entries. Salem, Oregon? 41 entries. And so on.
In the State of Washington, a man offered to sell a free Cadillac “with purchase of eclipse glasses.” The catch? He’s selling them for $2,500. Here’s the ad. A quick search for “solar eclipse glasses” on the Craig’s List site for his area, though, shows a lot of glasses being offered for $20.
There are many people selling solar eclipse glasses on eBay, but costs are rising and you have to scrupulously watch out for fakes. Check it out. They range in price from under $1 to more than $200. Some offer “pick up now.” However, according to The Washington Post, “On eBay, solar glasses — which typically cost 99 cents to $30 — are selling for as much as $24,000 a pair, plus $38 for shipping. A spokesman for the site said employees have been ‘actively monitoring’ listings for unsafe items.” Unsafe glasses can “literally cook your eyes,” The Post reports.
The key to shopping for the glasses on such online sites, as mentioned, but it’s worth repeating, is that you need to make sure the glasses are certified, safe, and not fake. If you are at all unsure? We suggest not risking it.
Here’s another alternative, though: There are many suggestions for making homemade solar eclipse viewers. Just make sure that you follow all of the safety precautions carefully. The eyes are a precious commodity. If you can’t get glasses, the Society suggests trying its pinhole projection method instead. You also might be lucky enough to be able to go to a NASA viewing area to get free glasses at a local library. Some universities and schools bought glasses in bulk and are holding viewing parties. USA Today offers detailed instructions for making a solar eclipse viewing card at home. National Geographic has detailed instructions for how to make a homemade viewer.