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Are those eclipse glasses safe? Where to find a proper pair in Pennsylvania, what to avoid

Many Pennsylvanians will get to see a near-complete look at April 8’s solar eclipse, and those in the northwest will have an even better view.

Before Monday’s astronomical event arrives, you’ll need to ensure you have proper eye protection if you hope to watch the eclipse. After all, another total solar eclipse is not expected to be visible from American soil until August 2044.

Here’s what you need to know about eclipse glasses, finding reputable suppliers and even crafting your devices at home.

Do I really need eye protection to look at the eclipse?

Yes. Unless you are located within the path of totality, in which the moon completely blocks the sun for a brief period, you risk serious eye injury by looking at the sun — even when it is partially obscured by the eclipse.

In the U.S., the upcoming eclipse’s path of totality will stretch from southwestern Texas up through upstate New York and Maine. The northwestern tip of Pennsylvania, including Erie, will see total obscuration between 3:16 and 3:20 p.m., according to eclipse projections.

April 8’s total solar eclipse will completely block the sun’s light and create a 115-mile-wide “path of totality” across much of the U.S. Those outside the path will see a partial solar eclipse.
April 8’s total solar eclipse will completely block the sun’s light and create a 115-mile-wide “path of totality” across much of the U.S. Those outside the path will see a partial solar eclipse.

Although the sun’s light may appear dimmer during an eclipse, it can still damage your eyes. Unprotected looks at the sun for even a brief moment can result in vision loss or blindness as wavelengths of light damage your retina.

Solar viewing glasses, better known simply as eclipse glasses, are necessary when watching the partial phases of the solar eclipse before and after totality. Eclipse glasses differ from run-of-the-mill sunglasses in that they are often thousands of times darker and, in most cases, comply with international safety standards.

Do not try to get around taking proper precautions by looking at the eclipse through a camera lens, a telescope, a pair of binoculars or any other optical device. Even if you are wearing the right eclipse glasses, concentrated solar rays can burn through the filters on these devices and cause serious eye injury, NASA warns. Proper solar filters for these devices can make viewing an eclipse safe.

Ready to see the total solar eclipse? This city offers the best view in Pennsylvania

What to look for when buying eclipse glasses

As you look for solar eclipse glasses or viewers, make sure they meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard. This sets several benchmarks for safe solar viewers, including the transmittance of ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths, material and surface quality, mounting, labeling and more.

The American Astronomical Society keeps track of quality solar eclipse glasses and viewers through a vetted list of trusted suppliers. Though the AAS notes it cannot keep track of every potential seller, the retailers in its listings supply solar viewers and filters “that you can be confident are safe when used properly.”

“For every seller on the list, we’ve confirmed three things: (1) the identity of the manufacturer, (2) that the manufacturer’s viewers have been tested for compliance with ISO 12312-2 by a properly accredited lab, and (3) that the viewers meet the standard’s transmittance requirements across the parts of the spectrum to which our eyes are at risk from overly bright light,” the AAS wrote in a statement March 22.

You can view the AAS’s list of vetted suppliers by visiting eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/viewers-filters. You may be able to find safe eclipse-viewing products from these retailers in-store or online through Walmart, Target, Amazon and other chains before April 8 arrives.

Be sure to watch out for counterfeit glasses that use the International Organization for Standardization’s logo. If you find eclipse glasses and are unsure if they are legitimately safe to use, experts suggest running them through a few “tests” at home:

  • Put your glasses on indoors and look around. Only bright lights, such as halogen bulbs or smartphone flashlights, should be visible.

  • Wear them outside and look around. Your view through them should be too dark to see distant hills, trees or other surroundings.

  • If these two previous tests worked, take a quick glance at the sun. You should comfortably see a “bright, sharp-edged round disc.”

Centre County community members can grab a free pair of eclipse glasses at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, where the State College Spikes and Penn State’s Eberly College of Science will host a SolarFest eclipse-watching event. Free glasses are provided in part by the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium at this event, which will stretch from noon to 5 p.m. Monday.

According to an event flyer, you can pick up free eclipse glasses in advance by visiting State College’s Discovery Space during business hours or dropping by Medlar Field at Lubrano Park’s Team Office gate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday while supplies last.

What if I can’t find a new pair of eclipse glasses in time?

If your glasses from the 2017 total solar eclipse for the fall 2023 annual eclipse are still in good condition, they are likely fair game. Check to make sure there are no scratches, tears or holes in the lenses, Time magazine suggests.

You can even craft your own pair using materials from around the house, including aluminum foil and cardboard.

NASA recommends using a pinhole projector to view an eclipse indirectly. To create your own, poke a hole in a sheet of paper, such as an index card, and let the sunlight shine through the hole to create a shadow of the eclipse on the ground.

You might also choose to create your own projector using a cardboard box, a white sheet of paper, aluminum foil, tape and scissors, the agency says.

First, tape your sheet of white paper on the inside end of the box and, on the other end, cut out a section and cover it with aluminum foil, leaving a small hole poked out. Cut out a section from which to view on the other side of that end. Once the eclipse arrives, look through the viewpoint and face away from the sun. You should see the sunlight hit the small hole in the aluminum foil and create a shadow on the white paper inside the box.