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Protect your eyes when viewing the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024

Justin Bartel of the Science Museum of Virginia
Justin Bartel, Assistant Director of Education, Astronomy Programs at the Science Museum of Virginia explains more about viewing solar eclipses and how to keep your eyesight safe.

Now that winter is ending and the days are getting longer, you may be enjoying a little more time in the sun. In just a few weeks, across North America, many people will enjoy an amazing natural occurrence: a total solar eclipse on April 8.

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, completely blocking the sun’s rays. While this phenomenon isn’t rare — it happens every one or two years — it’s rare to be in a perfect position to see it. The “path of totality” is the region where the Moon will completely block the Sun in the sky.

In areas outside the path of totality, including Virginia, viewers will see a partial eclipse. At the peak of the eclipse in these areas, the moon will cover most of the sun, but not all of it. In Virginia, the moon will move across the sun at about 2 p.m. moving off it at around 4:30 p.m.

But be careful: Viewing an eclipse requires safety precautions. It’s important to be prepared, and especially important to make sure children are prepared — in Virginia, the eclipse will peak when many students are headed home from school. You can explore detailed timing for a specific location with this interactive eclipse map.

Justin Bartel, Assistant Director of Education, Astronomy Programs at the Science Museum of Virginia explains more about viewing solar eclipses and how to keep your eyesight safe.

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Do NOT look at the Sun without proper eye protection. Even during a partial eclipse, the portion of the Sun’s surface that remains visible is bright enough that its intense light can cause permanent damage to the retina, even if you only look at it for a few seconds. Exposing your eyes to the Sun without proper eye protection can cause retinal burns. 
  • Everyday sunglasses are not enough; you’ll need something that meets the certified ISO 12312-2 international standard. NASA recommends choosing from this list of solar viewers and eclipse glasses compiled by the American Astronomical Society. They also provide some guidelines to make sure any glasses or viewers you already have will be sufficient. 
  • It’s also important to inspect the lenses on your eclipse glasses to make sure they aren’t scratched, torn or punctured, and that they are still firmly attached to the frame. To ensure your eclipse glasses are safe, test them around the house before using them to observe the sun. Try looking through them at a shaded lamp or similar light fixture. Certified eclipse glasses should block so much light that you won’t see anything. Try again looking at a bare lightbulb. You may see it faintly, but most of the light should be blocked out. If indoor lights look bright through your eclipse glasses, then they aren’t safe to use to observe the sun. 
  • If you want to use a camera, telescope, or other optical device to observe the eclipse, you'll need a solar filter designed to protect both you and your equipment. Like your eyes, the electronics in digital cameras can be damaged by exposure to direct sunlight. Because telescopes and camera lenses concentrate incoming light, the ability of unfiltered sunlight passing through them to do harm is amplified. If you don't have appropriate solar filters, don't worry—plenty of photographers will be using high-end equipment to take breathtaking photos of the event, so you can just enjoy the moment. 
  • If you don’t have something safe to shield your eyes from the sun, you can use an indirect viewing method that projects the sun’s image onto a surface that is safe for prolonged gazing. Making a box pinhole projector ahead of time is an easy, fun way to get kids excited about the event and make sure they experience it safely. The Science Museum of Virginia also has a PDF with simple directions to make your own solar eclipse viewer. 
  • For other ideas, this video explains additional ways to safely view the eclipse and why they work.  

It will be another 20 years before a total solar eclipse is visible from the United States again (and that path of totality won’t be anywhere near Virginia). So be ready for this one: know how to see it safely, find a comfy spot outside, and cross your fingers for cloudless skies!