Everything You Need To Gear Up For Watching The Total Solar Eclipse

The countdown has begun: It’s less than a month until the country’s biggest astronomical event of the century. On August 21, a Total Solar Eclipse will sweep across the U.S., with the best viewing areas occurring along a line running from Oregon to South Carolina.

Even if you aren’t in one of the lucky states that will see the moon completely block the sun, you’ll still witness a partial eclipse. The views are sure to be spectacular, but you can’t take them in with your bare eyes or even with a regular camera alone. The sun will be so bright that special precautions must be taken by anyone looking to photograph, record, or simply look into the sky above.

Ahead, three essentials for any solar eclipse spectator, from the casual observer to the more committed viewer.

Create A Pinhole Camera

If you want to go the DIY route — or you simply forgot to grab certified glasses in time — NASA has an easy guide to making a pinhole camera. This isn’t really a camera in the modern sense, rather just a basic projection device made by cutting a hole in a piece of paper, covering it with aluminum foil, and poking a pin into the foil. (As some have found, an empty Pringles tube works just as well as a piece of paper.)

One important safety warning: Never look at the sun directly through that pinhole. Instead, NASA says, you should place a piece of paper on the ground and hold your pinhole camera over it to project the image there.

Get A Pair of ISO-Certified Eclipse Viewing Glasses

If you are planning to look at the sun in the moments leading up to the total eclipse, it’s critical that you have proper eyewear to protect you against the bright rays. No , your Ray Bans, or any sunglasses for that matter, won’t cut it.

According to NASA, you need to look for glasses that are certified with the ISO 12312-2 international standard. It’s also important to check the lenses for any scratches or wrinkles, both of which could let in harmful light to your eyes. If the glasses were made or purchased over three years ago, it’s time to get a new pair.

Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways to get your hands on safety certified glasses, many of which look like the ones you wear to watch a 3D movie. Over 4,500 public libraries across the country are offering free glasses, as are all Warby Parker stores beginning August 1. You’ll also find a slew of inexpensive options online, including the $0.98 TSE 17 Eclipse Glasses.

Up Your Lens Game

If there’s ever a time to invest in a telescope or pair of binoculars, the total eclipse is it. But just as the light from the eclipse can damage your eyes, it can also damage the lenses of those devices. So if you are going to make a purchase, make sure to buy ones with solar filters included, such as these Meade EclipseView Binoculars ($49.95, available at B&H).

For telescopes and cameras, look into buying an attachable solar filter for the lens.

As NASA astronomer Dr. Sten Odenwald notes, there’s some debate about whether or not smartphones are exempt from these measures, since the lenses are smaller and let in less light. However, it’s best to take a safe approach and place your ISO-certified glasses in front of the lens when taking a photo. Use a mini tripod to keep your phone in place while you hold the glasses in front.

The only completely safe time to look up without protection is at the moment of totality, when the moon covers the sun completely. But unless you’re on the path, from Oregon to South Carolina, you won’t catch that moment and only a partial eclipse. So be sure you’re ready for this once in a lifetime astronomical event.

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