Safe Transit Viewing

You have heard it before, but it really is true! Looking at the Sun for longer than a few brief moments with an unprotected eye can lead to permanent damage. Looking at the Sun with any sort of optical deceive that has not been properly filtered can lead to instantaneous eye damage.

Discussed below are the only safe methods I am aware of to view the Sun. There are some dodgy methods out there. Take chance with your irreplaceable eyesight? I think not. Be careful and do it right if you want a look.

For the unaided eye there are a couple options to view the Sun safely…

  • Solar Viewing Glasses Proper solar viewing filters are made from a thin plastic film, usually mylar, coated with metal to properly filter the Sun’s light for viewing with the unaided eye. These are widely available and quite cheap. Local astronomy organizations have been giving them away in preparation for the transit. Do not attempt to use these viewers in conjunction with binoculars or small telescopes, they do not provide sufficient filtering for optics!

  • Welding Glass Filters used for viewing welding offer much the same protection as solar filters. A shade 13 or darker welding filter can provide good protection for the unaided eye. Again, do not use a welding filter with any sort of optical device such as binoculars, they are not designed for such use and may not block enough light.

A much better view of the event can be seen if modest magnification is used. Do keep in mind that any soft of binoculars or telescope also concentrates much more light that the eye alone. Remember those childhood “experiments” involving a magnifying glass and ants? The best options here are the use of solar filters designed to be used on a telescope, or indirect means such as image projection.

Solar Filter
A solar filter mounted on a refracting telescope
  • Solar Filters for Telescopes Filters specifically designed for telescopes consist of either a plastic film, or a sheet of glass, coated with a thin layer of metal to block the Sun’s light. These filters pass about 1/1000 of one percent of the light. More importantly, they block the harmful infrared and ultraviolet light that could so easily cause damage. The filters can be purchased in many sizes as appropriate for various models of telescopes, costing between one hundred and several hundred dollars.

  • Image Projection One of the simplest methods of displaying a solar image is projection. A white screen placed a foot or two behind a telescope will produce a very nice image of the Sun that can be safely viewed by a number of people simultaneously.

    Keep in mind that the beam of light out of the eyepiece is quite intense, potentially hot enough to burn a careless finger placed near the exit from the telescope.

    The method works best with small optical systems, binoculars or the smallest of telescopes. You do not need big optics to project a very nice solar image.

    You do not have any optics? Use the simplest optical arrangement of all, the pinhole camera!

If you do not have a safe means of viewing the transit and do want a look, you can go to one of the many public events being organized. Here on the Big Island there are quite a few options, one should be close to you.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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