The next solar eclipse happens this year on the 21st August but our view of the phenomenon won't be as spectacular as the one the people in the US will enjoy; the moon will pass in front of the sun making it as dark as night-time for 2 minutes during the day.
What is a solar eclipse and what should we expect to see?
A solar eclipse is when the moon slowly covers the sun until it is completely obscured. For us on Earth what we get to experience is the silhouette of the moon over the sun in the sky, and the sky changes into a deep twilight colour. A very strange occurrence in the middle of the day!
Take steps to protect your eyes
What most people do not know is that looking directly at a solar eclipse can be as damaging to your sight as looking at the sun. This is because the illusion of the sun ‘disappearing’ tricks our eyes. Our eyes naturally protect themselves against too much light exposure by constricting our pupils to allow less light to enter.
During an eclipse, when it is slightly darker outside as the moon passes over the sun, our eyes do not respond as well as they would to sunlight. Watching a solar eclipse without protection can give you a thermal burn to your retina and the scary thing is you won’t feel any discomfort as the damage is occurring.
Safe eclipse viewing tips
- Protective glasses, or goggles, with special-purpose solar filters are the safest way to protect your vision during a social eclipse. They reduce sunlight by 100,000 times. Ensure your viewing glasses are quality and meet worldwide safety standards. You need to also check your glasses are not damaged beforehand by looking for scratches, cracks and any other potential breaks - always put your special eclipse viewers on BEFORE looking up into the sky
- Pinhole viewers and cameras can be made to project an image of the eclipse. A tiny hole in a piece of card, or a cardboard box, held away from a viewing panel made of card or paper will show the eclipse safely. Do not try to look through this hole at the sun
The Royal Astronomical Society has published a number of guidelines just in time for the solar eclipse including:
- Never look directly at the sun, even for a few seconds, as the damage caused can last a lifetime
- Sunglasses do not protect eyes against looking at the eclipse - Normal sunglasses are not safe for viewing an eclipse and can potentially cause significant damage as they can have the opposite affect and open up your pupil to let more light in.
- Do not use binoculars or telescopes to look directly at the eclipse
See how the solar eclipse will look from anywhere in the U.S here.