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NASA has issued a set of safety guidelines ahead of a solar eclipse that will be visible to more than 300 million people in the United States this month.

How to watch the Great American Eclipse safely

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, August 16, 2017, 10:04 - There's an amazing event going on in the sky in August of this year, and it's one you're not going to want to miss. So here's your guide on to safely watch the total solar eclipse!

On Monday, August 21, 2017, starting in the morning on the west coast and the early to mid afternoon on the east coast, residents of North America will be able to see at least part of a Total Solar Eclipse.

To watch the eclipse, check the start, peak and end times for your location, on the map below:

The only special equipment needed to watch the event is a pair of solar viewing glasses or eclipse glasses. Inexpensive ones made from cardstock are available from various retailers, as are more expensive ones with plastic frames. Regardless of the materials the frames are made of, the Mylar filters are the the important part, and observe all safety precautions while viewing the eclipse (see below).

If obtaining eclipse glasses is not an option, a simple pin-hole camera can be constructed, to project an image of the eclipse onto the ground or a wall. By watching the projection of the eclipse (with your back to the Sun), this is a safe way to view the event without eye protection.

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Cameras are good for capturing the event, and telescopes and binoculars are useful for either getting a closeup look at the edges of the Moon, the surface of the Sun (during the partial eclipse), or the lines of the solar wind (during totality). However, these are not needed for viewing and may even detract from the experience for first-time viewers. Also, just as the Sun's radiation can damage unprotected eyes, it can also damage unprotected equipment. If you wish to use a camera or telescope, be sure to purchase special Mylar filters to fit over the lens of the camera or to cap the end of the telescope. Special solar-viewing binoculars are also available, which have permanent protective filters.

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Regardless of where you watch the eclipse from, be mindful of the weather forecast, as overcast skies across whatever location you choose to view from will ruin the experience, and observe normal precautions for being out in the Sun (such as wearing sunblock, covering your head and bringing along water).

The average cloudiness on August 21, for locations in the United States, including along the path of totality. Credit: NOAA/NCEI

WARNING: Be very careful and do not take chances with your eyesight during this event.

• REMEMBER - Do not look directly at the Sun without the proper eye protection, for any length of time, even during a solar eclipse.
Use solar viewing glasses or eclipse glasses, and check to ensure that the lenses are intact. Discard any pair where the Mylar lenses are damaged.
NEVER look at the Sun using an unfiltered telescope or pair of binoculars. This applies even if you are wearing Mylar filter glasses, as the focused sunlight can burn through the filters.
Do not use normal sunglasses. No matter how dark they are or what their UV rating is, normal sunglasses will not be enough to protect your eyes as you look directly at the Sun.
#14 welder's glass does offer adequate protection, but be sure that the equipment actually has this rating (some arc-welder equipment may not, leaving the wearer's eyes vulnerable to the Sun's radiation).

Special Note for those viewing from the Path of Totality: when viewing an eclipse from the path of totality, there is a roughly 2-minute period when it is safe, and in fact encouraged, to look at a total solar eclipse without eye protection. This ONLY applies when viewing along the path of totality and ONLY when the Moon is completely covering the Sun. Never attempt this during any partial solar eclipse or annular ("Ring of Fire") solar eclipse, or while viewing a total solar eclipse from outside of the path of totality, or at any time during a total solar eclipse, viewed from the path of totality, when the moon is not completely covering the Sun.

Even the "diamond ring" parts of a solar eclipse, when there is the tiniest sliver of the Sun showing on either side of the Moon, are too dangerous to view without protection. Wait until the Moon completely covers the Sun before removing eye protection, and replace eye protection or look away before the edge of the Sun appears on the other side of the Moon. See NASA's Eye Safety During a Total Solar Eclipse page for a detailed safety guide, and if you do choose to view the total eclipse without eye protection, please exercise extreme caution during this time. Credit: NASA GSVS/Scott Sutherland

Also, if you are viewing from the path of totality, be sure to look around you during those 2+ minutes when the Moon's shadow is passing directly over you! Watch as the Moon plunges the surrounding area into twilight, affecting local plants, wildlife and even the weather, as winds tend to go calm during this period of time!

Sources: RASC Observer's Handbook 2017 | NASA GSVS | Image Source

NASA flies us around Earth and the Moon during the 2017 eclipse

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