How to Safely Enjoy the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, North America will be treated to a rare and amazing viewing opportunity: a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse is an astronomical event when the moon passes in between the earth and the sun, partially or totally blocking out the sun’s light for a brief few minutes. Most of the United States will see a partial eclipse but those in prime locations (including in Nashville, TN, just up the road from the home offices of UL EHS Sustainability) will have the chance to witness a spectacular total solar eclipse. This will be the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in almost 100 years, which only adds to the excitement.

But, as anticipation builds, it’s important to remember there are still pivotal safety measures that must be taken into consideration.

First and foremost, be smart when it comes to your eyes.  Staring directly at the sun—even a partially eclipsed sun–can cause serious damage to your eyes. Intense light exposure to the retina causes damage to the retina’s rod and cone cells, which can permanently damage your vision. Safely viewing an eclipse requires proper protective glasses. Regular sunglasses are not sufficient and there are increasing reports of counterfeit eclipse glasses; check out the American Astronomical Society’s website here for information on where to buy ISO-tested, safe glasses. Welder’s goggles rated 14 or higher are also safe to use. It is possible to view the eclipse without glasses ONLY in the path of totality and when the moon completely covers the sun, but it is not recommended. Use your best judgment if you are in the path of totality and take extra care to remind children or others who may not know about the potential for eye damage.

NASA reminds us that we should not look through a camera, telescope, binoculars, or other viewing instrument even when wearing the proper glasses. The concentrated solar light can damage the integrity of the glasses and cause potential eye damage. A pinhole camera is a safe option for viewing the eclipse and a fun project for families or work groups. Find out how to make one here.

Those who plan to be outside to watch the event should remember to be aware of the weather. It is still hot in the southern United States. Find shade if possible, wear appropriate sun protection (such as sunscreen and hats) and drink adequate amounts of water to avoid heat stress. Other parts of the country may have different weather events, so be aware of electrical storms or other severe weather in the vicinity.

Car safety will also be an important factor to consider. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the path of the total eclipse. Many of these people will plan on traveling to the path of totality. Some may even decide to stop in the middle of the street when the sun begins its eclipse, or may be distracted and unaware of the road. Get where you need to go in advance of the eclipse and practice safe driving at all times.

Ultimately, this is an amazing opportunity to learn about science and witness an extraordinary visual event. Staying aware of safety procedures at all times will allow you to safely enjoy this rare phenomenon that has captivated the imagination since the dawn of humankind.