Six ways to safely watch the eclipse

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - OCTOBER 14: People observe the sky with special lenses during an annular solar eclipse at Planetarium of Bogota on October 14, 2023 in Bogota, Colombia. (Photo by Diego Cuevas/Getty Images)

In just a few short days, millions of people will spend a part of their day looking up. The total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024 will cut a wide path across North America, offering a spectacular view of one of the most mesmerizing astronomical events one can witness from Earth.

But how do you watch it safely? You’ve got options. 

How can you watch the eclipse safely?

With a brief exception (it’s called totality – more on that below), it is very unsafe to look directly at an eclipse. Luckily, there are several ways to watch the progression of the eclipse before and after totality. Those methods include:

  • Eclipse glasses
  • Pinhole camera (the DIY cereal box method)
  • Colander (yes, really!)
  • Handheld eclipse viewer
  • Welding filter or welder’s glass, shade 13 or 14 
  • Solar filters for cameras, telescopes and binoculars

You’ll find more on these options below.

MORE: How to get the best view of the solar eclipse

Eclipse glasses

Eclipse glasses are made with special solar filters to block the hazardous wavelengths of sunlight. These filters are typically made from a flexible resin called black polymer, which has several layers that block out different forms of light. 

One layer blocks the majority of the visible light spectrum, reducing the sun’s glare to comfortable levels. Another layer includes an aluminum coat that reflects infrared radiation. Often, these glasses also contain a thin layer of chromium alloy or aluminum deposited on their surfaces that reflects or filters out ultraviolet rays. 

The result is that only a fraction of the Sun's light, around 0.003% or so, passes through these filters, making it safe to observe the sun directly.

Eclipse glasses are readily available from online retailers like Amazon; additionally, many local and national businesses will be giving away promotional eclipse viewers in the lead-up to the eclipse.  

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Pinhole camera (the DIY cereal box method)

If you can’t get your hands on a pair of eclipse glasses (or one of the other methods outlined below), never fear – making a solar eclipse projection box is easy and can be done with supplies you most likely already have at home. 

You’ll need an empty cereal box (or something similar), aluminum foil, clear tape, scissors, a marker, and a piece of white paper.

Trace the bottom of the box on the white paper, then cut out the resulting white rectangle. Tape it in the bottom of the cereal box. Cut out a square on each side of the box top, with the center intact. (Tape may come in handy here.) 

Cover the left square with aluminum foil, secure it with tape, and then punch a half-inch hole in the center of the foil. 

You’re essentially creating a space for the reflection of the eclipse to play out on the white paper. It’s pretty simple, but there are also more detailed instructions available. And hey, if you don’t have a cereal box handy, there’s a kitchen tool you can use! More on that below. 

Colander (yes, really!)

The holes in a colander allow you to use it as an even simpler pinhole camera. Simply sit or stand with your back to the sun and hold the colander out. 

You might want to put a piece of white paper on the ground (or hold it in your other hand) to make the image as clear as possible. 

Unlike the DIY projector described above, using a colander will result in many small images of the eclipse! This makes it an especially appealing option for kids. 


A woman uses a kitchen colander to cast the shadow of the sun on a white board during the annular solar eclipse in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 14, 2023. Skygazers across the Americas turned their faces upwards Saturday for a rare celestial e

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Handheld eclipse viewer

As with eclipse glasses, this handheld option needs to meet the ISO 12312-2 standard to be considered safe, so look for that label. 

Handheld eclipse viewers are a great option for anyone who dislikes the feel of wearing glasses. As a helpful side effect, a handheld viewer will likely require you to look away from the eclipse more frequently, since you have to hold your arm up to use it, and frequent glances away from the sun are important for the safety of your eyes. (More on that below.)

Welding filter or welder’s glass, shade 13 or 14

According to the American Astronomical Society, the ISO 12312-2 standard was partly based on information culled from years of using welding filters for solar viewing:

"A welding filter with a shade number of 12 or higher transmits a safely tiny percentage of the Sun's light across the spectrum, whether made of tempered glass or metal-coated polycarbonate. 

Most observers find the view through a shade 12 welding filter uncomfortably bright and the view through a shade 15 or higher-numbered welding filter unattractively dark. 

The "sweet spot" is shade 13 or 14, which best matches the view in purpose-made eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers, except that the image is green rather than yellow-orange or white."

Odds are you won’t find shade 13 or 14 in stores, but they’re readily available online. 

The AAS also notes that adjustable and auto-darkening welding helmets and similar tools are unsafe for eclipse viewing. In the case of the former, there’s a possibility of human error – you or someone else may incorrectly set or inadvertently change the adjustable setting. 

Auto-darkening devices are even riskier, as they’re unlikely to auto-darken quickly enough to ensure the safety of your eyes. 

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Solar filters (for cameras, telescopes and binoculars)

If you’re hoping to capture the eclipse in a photo or video, or wish to watch through a telescope or set of binoculars, you need a specific professional filter that must be affixed to the front of the device, not the eyepiece. 

Viewing the eclipse through an unfiltered lens is extremely dangerous, and less importantly, can also damage the device.

The AAS suggests getting a certified filter that you can attach and remove quickly if you’re watching the eclipse from inside the path of totality. But if you’re outside the path of totality, a filter that screws on is fine, as you’ll never be removing the filter from your device during the event. 

They also recommend that should you want to take a photo or video of the eclipse, you practice shooting the sun on a normal day first, with your lens firmly in place. This will give you a chance to adjust your settings. (More details on those can be found on the AAS website.) 

A tripod of some sort will also help to hold the camera steady, which becomes more important when finding the right exposure (a key element of a successful eclipse photo or video.)

Lastly, they also recommend that you forgo the idea of photos and video entirely and instead just enjoy the experience – plenty of other sources will get professional images of the event (like your local FOX station, for example). 

How can I tell if my eclipse glasses are safe?

Eclipse glasses need to meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for direct sun viewing, according to the American Astronomical Society. You can also try the following at-home test.

NASA says before you take your eclipse glasses out to the main event, do the following checks to make sure they’re safe to use.

First, find a bright light – like a lamp or flashlight – then hold your eclipse glasses up to the light and look through them. The light should appear extremely dim or not at all. 

"You should only be able to see the filament of a light bulb, but not the glow surrounding the bulb," NASA says. 

If your eclipse glasses have any marks or scratches on them, throw them away. 

If you’re using older glasses from a previous eclipse, make sure they haven’t been damaged or scratched. 

Glasses considered safe for eclipse-viewing will meet the ISO 12312-2 standard, so look for that label, but organizers of the Solar Eclipse Across America website say they’ve found some glasses that say they’re compliant but are not. The website recommends checking out its page of verified safe eclipse viewers and glasses

How long can you safely look at an eclipse?

If you’re wearing eclipse glasses, you’ll still want to look away every few minutes. NASA warns that "staring at the Sun for minutes at a time even with proper filters can still overheat the tissues and fluids in the eye," which can be dangerous. So even though it’s riveting to watch, you’ll want to glance away often to keep all those important eye fluids at a reasonable temperature. 

Can you use sunglasses as eclipse glasses? 

No! Firm no! While sunglasses are useful for protecting the eyes from everyday exposure to the sun, they can’t stand up to intense direct sunlight. Standard sunglasses – even those with UV protection – transmit thousands of times too much sunlight. 

Eclipse glasses, on the other hand, are specifically designed for direct solar viewing. They are equipped with special-purpose solar filters that safely block out the dangerous infrared and ultraviolet light, as well as reduce the sun’s brightness to a safe and comfortable level, allowing you to observe an eclipse without risking your eyesight.

Can you watch the eclipse through your phone?

It’s not a great idea to watch the eclipse through your phone. 

The American Astronomical Society urges that a special-purpose solar filter should remain on the lenses of all cameras (including smartphones) and telescopes during the eclipse. Just like your eyes, photo lenses can be damaged if pointed directly at the sun. 

Why is looking at an eclipse unsafe?

This warning isn’t an old wives tale – sitting too close to your TV won’t make you go blind, but staring directly at an eclipse can do serious damage. 

Even though the sun becomes obscured partially or entirely during an eclipse, what remains visible can cause significant harm to the eyes, potentially leading to permanent vision trouble (blurred vision, dark or yellow spots, pain in bright light, or loss of vision in the center of the eye).

Retinal burn (also called solar retinopathy) happens when sunlight floods the retina. This can overstimulate the cells and cause destruction. What’s more, there’s no warning of the damage, because retinas don’t have pain receptors – so while our fingers warn us when they touch a hot stove, our retinas have no such alarm system. 

This isn’t a danger exclusive to eclipses and other astronomical events (you should never look directly at the sun). But because an eclipse is such a rare and often awe-inspiring occurrence, people are far more likely to risk it, thus exposing themselves to harmful solar radiation. 

Use eclipse glasses or another protective device, whether store-bought or homemade. 

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What does totality mean?

Totality in an eclipse is when the moon fully obscures the sun, allowing observers within the path of the moon's shadow to witness it. When totality occurs, the corona (the sun's outer atmosphere) becomes visible as a halo surrounding the moon. 

The day is plunged into twilight, stars and planets may become visible in the sky, and the temperature drops as much as 10 degrees. This period of totality is typically quite short – a few minutes, tops – but it can have a profound impact on those who experience it.

MORE: What happens if it's cloudy during the eclipse? The answer depends, researchers say

What does path of totality mean?

The path of totality is a specific pathway across the Earth's surface in which observers can witness a total solar eclipse. During a total solar eclipse, the moon completely covers the sun's disk, turning daylight into twilight – that’s totality. 

The duration of totality at any given point along this path is rarely more than approximately seven minutes. Outside the path of totality, observers may see a partial solar eclipse.

Total solar eclipse path

The April 2024 solar eclipse will be visible, at least in part, to nearly everyone in the U.S. But the path of totality – where the moon will completely block the sun – is a 115-mile-wide region that stretches from southern Texas up through Ohio, then over to northern Maine.

Large cities in the path of totality include:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Carbondale, Illinois
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Plattsburgh, New York
  • Presque Isle, Maine

The farther you are from that path, less and less of the sun will appear to be blocked.

What time is the solar eclipse?

Southern Texas will see the peak of totality first, around 1:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Then Dallas at 1:42 p.m., with the time getting later and later as the moon’s shadow moves north. Indianapolis will see the peak around 3:05 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time; Cleveland at 3:15 p.m., and northern Maine around 3:30 p.m.

Image 1 of 5

Projected path and time of totality for the 2024 total solar eclipse over the U.S.

However, it will take several hours for the moon to move across the sun, so the actual eclipse event will start just over an hour before the peak of totality, with more and more of the sun slowly being blocked.

How long is the solar eclipse?

Again, that depends on where you are. Those closest to the center of the path will see total darkness for about four minutes at the peak of totality.

But because the moon moves slowly across the sun’s path, the entire eclipse event – from when the moon first clips the sun until the time it clears – will last from 90 minutes to over two hours for those in the path of totality.

Where do I look for the solar eclipse?

The easiest way to know may be to step outside in the days leading up to the eclipse and see where the sun is during the afternoon.

MORE: How to get the best view of the solar eclipse

Early afternoon on April 8, the sun will be pretty high in the sky. As always, though, the further north you are, the lower in the sky the sun will appear.

For example, in Austin, the sun will be at 67 degrees up from the horizon at the peak of totality. Remember, 90 degrees is straight up, so 67 degrees is just over two-thirds up into the sky from the horizon.

In Cleveland, meanwhile, the sun will be slightly lower, at only 49 degrees – just over halfway up in the sky.

When is the next total solar eclipse?

After 2024, NASA says, the next total solar eclipse visible from any point in the contiguous United States will occur in 2044. Totality will only be visible from North Dakota and Montana.

The next total solar eclipse that will travel across the lower 48 states from coast to coast is in 2045. ​

This story was reported from Chicago. The FOX TV Digital team contributed to this report.