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How to watch a solar eclipse safely


What time will it take place?

First contact - when the moon first starts to pass in front of the sun - starts at 8.26am on Friday 20 March 2015. Maximum eclipse will be at 9.31am. Those timings will be slightly earlier the further west and south you are in the UK - have a look at timeanddate.com for details.

So, what actually happens during a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and the earth, blocking out the sun's rays. Friday's will only be a partial eclipse - but up to 90% of the sun will be blotted out.

It's well worth trying to catch it - if you miss this one, you'll have to wait till 12 August 2026 for the next big 'un. The last total solar eclipse to be visible from the UK happened in 1999 in Cornwall.

How to view the solar eclipse safely

The crucial thing is not to view it directly with your eyes - no, not even with sunglasses, binoculars or telescopes. This is really, really important - it only takes a few seconds to permanently damage your eyes, and after the last one, 70 people registered eclipse-related sight loss.

solar eclipse shades

The only exception to this rule is via proper eclipse viewers or shades. These cut down the sun's light by 100,000 times, so if you were canny enough to get hold of a pair earlier in the week then you can use these to view the eclipse directly.  NB nothing else will do - even if a pair of sunglasses has very dark lenses, they won't be anywhere near dark enough.

Viewing the eclipse indirectly is safest

There are a few easy ways to do this:

  • The eclipse colander

If you've got a colander, you've got a readymade way of viewing the eclipse safely. Stand with your back to the sun, holding the colander in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

Hold the colander between the sun and the paper, and watch as loads of mini eclipses appear on the paper.

  • Pinhole viewer

Get two pieces of white card; poke a small hole in one piece of card using a compass or something pointy. Stand with your back to the sun, holding both cards up, with the one with the pinhole closer to the sun.

The light through the pinhole will be projected on to the second piece of card, allowing the eclipse to be viewed safely. But be careful - never look through the pinhole at the sun, only at the projected image.

Alternatively, you can employ something like an empty Pringles tube to create much the same effect - and to prevent your teens finding alternative uses for it ;-).

pinhole diagram

ratspeaker's homemade pinhole viewer

  • Binoculars projector

For this you need a pair of binoculars and some white card. Cover one eyepiece with the lens cap, and hold out the binoculars (or mount them on a tripod) so that the sun's rays shine through the eyepiece and out of the other end. Hold up a piece of plain card so that the sun's image is projected onto it - use the focus wheel to sharpen the image. Once again, do not use the binoculars to look directly at the sun.

  • On the TV

Far and away the easiest and safest way to watch the eclipse will be on the TV or internet.

Make your own shoebox pinhole camera


And finally, enjoy it!

"It's amazing to see the effects of totality - the street lights coming on, the birds stopping singing and feeling the temperature drop."


Last updated: over 3 years ago