How to watch a solar eclipse

On August 21, a rare phenomenon will occur over the American mainland when the sun gets momentarily overshadowed by the moon. If you are in America on Monday, you might experience a total solar eclipse, if not, a partial one. However, to witness this mega astronomical event one has to be careful and exercise caution.

Here are a few suggestions on how to safely view the solar eclipse:

The first rule of watching a solar eclipse is to never look directly at the sun even when it is partially obscured. According to NASA, the rays emitted from the sun even when partially obscured are dangerous to the eyes and can cause severe damage to the retina. Special glasses are being manufactured for people to witness the extraordinary phenomenon of eclipses. For the August 21 ‘The Great American Solar Eclipse,’ manufacturers are reportedly sold out of these glasses due to high demand. According to NASA, the eclipse glass is made with special purpose solar filters. Normal sunglasses does not offer sufficient protection and should therefore be avoided.

While sunglasses give you a clear vision of the eclipse, telescopes magnify the image and your experience of viewing the eclipse. The telescopes, however, should be equipped with a solar filter. Binoculars and cameras can also be used to view an eclipse but only when they have solar filters attached to the front, which ensures that the light and heat coming from the sun are blocked out of the optics. According to the American Astronomical Society, there are three different types of solar filters. First is a metal on glass filter, which is the most durable and expensive solar filter. Second, an aluminised polyester film, also referred to as aluminised mylar. And third, black polymer, which comes with a layer of aluminised polyester on one side.

This is a homemade and much cheaper solution to experience a solar eclipse. You can easily make it at home and observe the sun by projecting its light through the tiny hole on to a white sheet of paper. The pinhole camera recreates the camera obscura effect as it projects the image of the sun on a flat surface. Light travels in a straight line; when an object is illuminated, the pinhole allows for only a small amount of that reflection to pass through, forming an inverted image on the other side. In case of an eclipse, the illuminated objects are sun and moon and the piece of paper acts as lens with a hole in it.

Observatories provide a lot of options as a large number of people gather to witness the eclipse. Most are equipped with state of the art telescopes and protective binoculars. Numerous observatories across America are offering a chance for people to view the rare eclipse on Monday. According to the website of Griffith Observatory, it will host a public viewing event for the partial solar eclipse on its front lawn from 9.00 am to 12.00. NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is also hosting five public viewing events. However, the observatory has also issued advisory that it will not be able to host the public viewing if the weather is cloudy on Monday.

If you are in America there is a possibility that you will be a witness to the eclipse. However, for those in a different part of the world NASA has made special arrangements for everyone to see the extraordinary occurrence. Apart from hosting a live stream, NASA has also launched a special web-based program ‘Eye on the Eclipse’ which will give a 3D simulation of the August 21 solar eclipse. According to NASA, “Eyes on the Eclipse offers two options, one for desktops and laptops, and one that is web-based that you can use on your phone or on any device with a web browser. and see your own preview of the eclipse from anywhere on the planet.”

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