Chris Schulz Published

How To Safely View Monday’s Solar Eclipse

A man in a tan shirt wears eclipse glasses while standing in front of telescopes in the West Virginia University Planetarium.
West Virginia University Planetarium graduate assistant Jackson Taylor models eclipse glasses March 28, 2024.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Later Monday, a solar eclipse will draw a path across North America. Although West Virginia is not directly in that path, there are still amazing opportunities to safely observe a unique celestial event.

Early in the afternoon, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun blocking the light of the sun to observers. For those in the path of totality just north and west of West Virginia, they will experience a total solar eclipse.

“Totality means that the entire disk of the sun is covered,” said Susie Paine, a physics PhD student at West Virginia University, and a graduate student assistant at the university’s planetarium. “So it’ll be almost like nighttime in the day. Totality is rare. We won’t have totality in West Virginia, unfortunately, we’re getting like 95 percent of the sun covered by the moon.”

She said the path of the moon and earth actually produces eclipses fairly often. What makes Monday’s event special is just how many people in North America will be able to observe it without having to travel. 

“The appearance of rarity is that most of the Earth is not a great place for humans to be in the middle of the ocean,” Paine said. “So most solar eclipses are not going to happen in a place that’s convenient for any particular person to see them.”

It really is a once in a lifetime experience. According to NASA, the next total solar eclipse that will travel across the lower 48 states from coast to coast is in 2045, but that will cross from California to Florida. A total eclipse like this isn’t going to come close to West Virginia for another 100 years. 

But if you only know one thing before the eclipse, Paine needs it to be about safety.

“The big thing is buy and wear solar eclipse glasses,” she said. “I cannot stress this enough, wear eclipse glasses.”

Paine said the only time to safely look at the eclipse without protection is during totality, something that won’t happen anywhere in West Virginia. The risks of staring at the sun are no joke.

“It could cause cataracts which can cause other eye diseases,” she said. “If you look at it for too long, then you’re gonna go blind. So don’t do that.”

A stack of eclipse glasses, stylized with a sun over the right eye (left as oriented to the camera) are set under a keyboard on a black dress. A server stack can be seen further under the desk, as well as a pencil and papers on the desk.
Eclipse glasses like these are a crucial tool to enable direct observation of a solar eclipse.

Photo Credit: Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

One of the safe ways to indirectly observe the eclipse, without looking directly at the sun, is a pinhole projector. A projector can be made with a simple piece of paper, a shoe or cereal box or even by holding up a colander to let the sunlight shine through the holes and onto the ground or a white sheet. As the eclipse progresses, you’ll notice changes in the pinholes of light.

“You’ll see a bite taken out of it,” Paine said. “Sort of like when the moon is waxing or waning, it’ll eventually look crescent. Then most of the sun will be obscured, and then there’ll be a bite on the other side, and that’ll pass away.”

Jackson Taylor is also a graduate student at WVU and also cannot stress enough the importance of safety when observing the eclipse.

“Just to reiterate, nowhere in the state of West Virginia will it be safe to view the eclipse without eclipse glasses. Nowhere in the state,” he said. “Even with the eclipse glasses, you should still give your eyes a rest. You shouldn’t really be looking at the sun for more than five minutes, even with eclipse glasses.”

Taylor said the eclipse offers scientists unprecedented opportunities to learn more about the sun. 

“For astronomers, we love solar eclipses, because they block out the light of the sun, and it lets us see the outer solar corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, which extends way past the actual visible part of the sun to our eyes,” he said. “Because it’s getting blocked by the moon, we’re able to see parts of the sun that we’re not able to see on any given day.”

Eclipses have led to incredible discoveries, including the element helium – helios is Greek for sun – burning in the corona, and even the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“The sun is the closest star to us so by studying our own sun, we’re able to study all the other stars,” Taylor said. “So if we’re not taking into account the corona for our own sun, our own star, then we cannot take it into account for the other stars that we’re studying.”

The public will benefit from that scientific fervor because even if it’s cloudy, Taylor said NASA will be live streaming the eclipse online. And Paine has one more parting piece of advice.

“Wear your eclipse glasses,” Paine said. “Just don’t look directly at the sun, the same rules that have applied every other day of your life apply on April 8.”