Solar Eclipse 2024: How Do I Watch the Eclipse? What If I Don't Have Eclipse Glasses? Or What If I Can't or Don't Want to Wear Them?

On any given day, you would never go outdoors and stare at the sun (at least I hope not). It would permanently damage your eyes - in particular the exact spots in your retina that you need in order to be able to drive, write, or basically do anything else useful. The same goes for the eclipse! 

You actually won't be able to tell much is happening with your naked eyes before about 15ish minutes before totality, when you will realize things will start turning a different, weird, kind of muted color, one you've likely never experienced before. And if you live outside of totality, you will not experience most or any of this darkening. In either case, you need some other way to watch the progression of the moon across the sun beyond just your eyes. 

How do I watch the moon move across the sun? (partial eclipse phase watching lasts roughly 80 min before and after totality)

The best option, for most people, is to acquire a pair of solar eclipse glasses for every person in your household/party. (Read farther below for what to do without eclipse glasses.) Solar eclipse glasses can be found at a huge variety of places online (Amazon, observatories, astronomers, personal websites, state parks, etc.) or in person (state parks, visitor's centers, observatories, libraries, even big box stores like Menard's, etc.). You may get lucky and the event you're going to on eclipse day will provide you will glasses so you don't need to buy them (but they are not expensive - only $2-5/pair depending where you buy them, their branding, and how durable they are - cardboard vs plastic). The main thing is that you need to make sure the glasses are legitimate (buy from a reputable company or get them directly from a trusted source). If you need help figuring out if yours are ok, let me know. 

Try not to touch the film of the glasses. The oils on your skin will start to degrade the film. Do not store them somewhere they can get scratched, or else the sun can get through and hurt your eyes.

If you have eclipse glasses leftover from a previous eclipse, you will need to test them before wearing them - shine a super bright flashlight very close to the film while you're looking through the glasses, slowly and carefully covering every single spot. If you see any light at all, they are no good and you should not wear them to look at the sun.

Lunt eclipse glasses photo from Amazon, the ones I bought

When do I wear the eclipse glasses?

You will wear the eclipse glasses off and on during the partial phases of the eclipse. Put them on while facing the sun (so you can find it quickly once you have them on). Wear them for a few seconds up to a couple of minutes to look at the sun, then look away from the sun and take them off. You will not wear them constantly, or else you're not going to be able to see anything else at all (it's pitch black for everything except the sun itself). 

If there is wind, make sure to hold them to your face. You don't want any errant sun rays accessing your eyes.

If you wear prescription glasses, you will put the eclipse glasses on the outside (so you can use your prescription first), unless that's too uncomfortable (you can test both ways and see what works for you). Just make sure they completely cover your eyes.

If you keep your eclipse glasses in good condition, you can use these to watch the sun for sunspots during the next year or two, while we are at sunspot maximum! (So you can use them for other things beyond just eclipses!)

Can I wear anything else instead?

You can also use welder's glass of level 14. If you go this route, either use it in a welding helmet (so the light is blocked on all sides) OR make yourself a little viewing helmet out of cardboard and attach the glass over the eye holes.

Sunglasses are NOT okay to use to stare at the sun. You don't do that with sunglasses normally, right? So do not do that here. 

When do I take off the glasses for totality? When do I put them back on?

You will TAKE OFF your eclipse glasses after the diamond ring effect - seconds before totality hits. As soon as the diamond ring is passed, Baily's beads will appear and the sunlight will be too weak and disappear before it can hurt your eyes. Take off your glasses. You will be able to see the corona of the sun which looks like it is surrounding a black hole in the sky. It will be, probably, one of the most amazing sights of your life.

Put the eclipse glasses back on at the end of totality. As soon as you see any hint of light coming around the moon (Baily's beads) you need to look away from the sun/put your glasses back on. The diamond ring is bright enough that it could damage your eyes, and the crescent of the sun that quickly follows definitely will hurt you. Your eyes will have adjusted to the darkness of totality so they are highly susceptible to injury at that point. Don't risk it!

Image from Great American Eclipse

What about binoculars?

Many people have binoculars. They will get you a zoomed in view of the sun, which is awesome - you can see sunspots easier, as well as just watch the progression closer up. You absolutely need to block the harmful light here too, just like you would never look directly at the sun through binoculars on a normal day. You either need to buy solar filters that are made for the lenses of your binoculars, or make them yourself. You can get solar filter film to make your own filters (some tutorials are online) or if your lenses are small enough, you might be able to get a couple more eclipse glasses and use the film there to cover your lenses. You must fully cover them, just like you would with your eyes.

At totality, you will remove the filters from your binoculars (alternatively, you can just save your binoculars to only use during totality). You will see amazing views of the sun's corona, as well as possibly some prominences or even coronal mass ejections. It will be easier to see this with a zoom vs the naked eye.

What about photography?

If you are going to take photos, I am writing up a whole other post about how to take pictures, so watch out for that to come soon. The main thing to note here is that your camera lens will also need a solar filter on it, if you are zooming in on the sun. Otherwise, the sensor of your camera will get hurt just like your eyes would.

For most people, you will only have your smart phones. If you are doing wide angle photography or taking a not-zoomed-in video of your experience (my recommendation for most people), you don't need any solar filter. But if you are going to zoom in on the sun during the partial phases, put an extra pair of eclipse glasses over the lens of your phone first and then zoom in.

During totality, again, you won't use any filter.

For everyone looking to do photos with a zoom lens or through a telescope, you will need to make or buy solar filters for all your lenses to use during the partial phases for any photos that you are zooming in on the sun. You don't need filters for wide-angle lenses or cameras like GoPros that cannot zoom. (For telescopes, you also need a filter for your finding scope.) Try to make it easy to take off the filter during totality and to put back on as totality ends.

What if I don't want to wear eclipse glasses, or can't? Or I didn't get any?

The good news is there are lots of ways to still be able to see what's happening, though it will not be as crisp as through eclipse glasses. 

You can use these ideas not just for places with totality, but anywhere that's getting partially obscured as well. A reminder that you can check out this map, scroll or zoom to find your exact address, and see what to expect (obscuration percentage will tell you how much of the sun to expect covered up, totality  duration will tell you how much totality you have, penumbral duration will tell you how long you can expect your partial eclipse to last, etc. Let me know if I can help you read the data!)

These options are also great options for kids or anyone who may not be able to wear eclipse glasses (or don't want to) to see be able to watch the show. 

  • For many people, the easiest thing to do is grab a colander/strainer from your kitchen and bring it outside. Look at the shadows the sun makes through the holes in the colander. You will be able to see the crescent being cut into the sun by the moon. It is easier to see what's happening if you have a white piece of paper to put the shadow on. Here is an example (not my photo; from Wikipedia Commons):

    Colander eclipse viewing 05 (cropped)

  • Don't have a colander OR want fewer copies of the sun to look at? Try using a slotted spoon or spatula with holes in it. Or some cheese knives have holes in them. Beyond kitchen goods, if you have a small pot planter that's empty and has a drainage hole, that would work. Think anything that has a hole in it. The hole size will determine how close to the piece of paper (or ground) you need to be to get a clear image of the shadow.

  • If you find yourself without any tools, you can also find a tree and look at the shadows the sun is making on the ground through that.  Here is an example of that (again from Wikipedia Commons, not my photo):

      Solar eclipse viewing through a leafy tree

  • Or, possibly even easier, take both your hands (or borrow someone else's hands), spread your fingers wide, and lay them over each other in a grid. You should get the same effect as everything else listed.

  • You can also make a pinhole projector out of something like a cereal box. There are instructions on how to do so here

  • Last but not least, I made you all printable pinhole projectors (images are from Adobe Express, modified by me) for the totality path in Indiana. Simply print it out and poke a hole where you desire (the center or in your hometown or where you're watching from, whatever works). This will work to watch the total eclipse as well as the penumbral (partial) eclipses. 

    During the eclipse, with your BACK to the sun, just hold the card out and look at the shadow that comes through the hole (do NOT look through the hole itself at the sun!). It will be better if you can aim at a white piece of paper, so you'll get a clearer picture. You may need to get closer to the paper to get a better image.

    Enjoy! Just print it out yourself on whatever material you'd like, the sturdier the better. They are sideways to be designed to print as a postcard size. Save these images and print them out as desired. If you'd rather have a PDF version, send me your email address and I'll send it to you. You should also be able to go here and download it as well.


  • You can also just poke a hole or series of holes in whatever you want. I think a very cool idea is to poke holes in the shape of your name(s) and the date, and grab a photo of the partially eclipsed sun through the holes as a very cool, unique memento.

    This and more pinhole projector ideas here

Solar Eclipse 2024: How Do I Watch the Eclipse? What If I Don't Have Eclipse Glasses? Or What If I Can't or Don't Want to Wear Them? Solar Eclipse 2024: How Do I Watch the Eclipse? What If I Don't Have Eclipse Glasses? Or What If I Can't or Don't Want to Wear Them? Reviewed by Maria on 8:00:00 AM Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. Marilyn J. BrackneyApril 5, 2024 at 9:14 PM

    I highly recommend attending Maria's presentation at YES Cinema on Saturday morning at YES Cinema. We saw her this afternoon, and she clearly explained what to expect and how to prepare for Monday's eclipse. Bravo, Maria!


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