How Can You Safely Observe the Sun

Woman looking through a telescope

How can you safely observe the Sun? The sun is fascinating and constantly changing. Looking directly at the sun can be dangerous. Following are a few safety precautions to follow while viewing the sun.

Observing the Sun

Both professional and amateur astronomers use solar safe telescopes and other devices to look at the sun. The sun, the center of our solar system, is 93 million miles from Earth. The light and heat that we receive from the sun originates deep inside its core as nuclear reactions. The sun has a complicated and ever changing magnetic field that creates sunspots, flares, and other activity that is very interesting to observe. John of Worcester in 1128 AD made the first known observations and drawing of sunspots.

How Can you Safely Observe the Sun?

There are several ways that answer the question, how can you safely observe the sun. The safety slogan you heard as a child, "don't look directly at the sun or you'll go blind", is true. The sun emits dangerous ultra violet, or UV radiation, which can damage your eyes and even cause total blindness. A quick look at the sun of even a few seconds can cause damage. You will not feel the damage as it occurs because the backs of your eyes do not have any nerve endings. Following is a quick list of unsafe viewing methods:

  • Naked eye
  • Standard or polarized sunglasses
  • Improperly filtered binoculars
  • Unfiltered telescope
  • Photographic neutral density filters
  • Dark plastic
  • Smoked glass

Pinhole Projector

Make a pinhole projector, one of the easiest and least expensive, to safely look at the sun. The projector acts as a camera to project the image on a poster board. A pinhole is made in a thick piece of cardboard and you hold the board so the suns light passes through the pinhole. When you are using a pinhole projector you do not look through the whole at the sun.

Solar Filters

Telescopes need to be equipped with a solar filter to safely view the sun. Some telescopes come equipped with solar filters, others do not. A solar filter on a telescope allows you to view the sun to see how it looks to the unaided eye. Another type of solar filter will allow you to see the wavelengths of light. Building your own filter for a telescope will cost approximately $40.00.

Welders Glasses

Welder's glasses are an inexpensive from of a solar filter. Welder's glasses with a #14 filter work well to filter out the suns dangerous rays so you can look directly at the sun.

Local Astronomy Clubs

Many communities have astronomy clubs. Astronomy clubs meet often to view the solar system, this is one of the safest ways to observe the sun. For a listing of astronomy clubs in the United States click on the following link:

Compare Your View of the Sun To NASA's View

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How Can You Safely Observe the Sun