Eclipse day has finally arrived — set to start darkening the skies at about 9 am PST, with the shadow of the moon passing in front of the sun crossing the country until just after 4 pm EST. No question that eclipse watchers are going to want to share their experience with millions on others on social media, through texts and email. Their device of choice? Almost uniformly that's going to be a smartphone.
While most people know not to look into the sun — retina damage anyone? — there might be some incorrect assumption that a smartphone might protect the eye. That's a resounding no. Just as vetted eclipse glasses are necessary for anyone who want to directly view the sun before totality occurs, filters are needed for any camera as well.
Looking through a lens directly at the sun's rays are going to cause the same damage as looking directly at the star without a camera up to the eye. Snapping a quick shot through a smartphone lens without looking through the lens may be fine. But with a rare solar event like this, a clear, focused shot is probably what most people are going to want.
Vetted solar eclipse glasses, with ISO approved filters, are required for safely viewing the eclipse today.
Considering snapping some shots to share with buddies? Try these options:
1. Buy a vetted camera filter for a point-and-click (and it's probably too late for that) or hold a pair of ISO certified eclipse glasses up to a smartphone cameras lens. Don't know if the glasses you already have are safe? This list is the one both NASA and the American Astronomical Society have said include "reputable" vendors. But be aware: Amazon had to recently refund buyers of eclipse glasses because the vendors were thought to be selling glasses that weren't safe.
2. Create a pin-hole camera (JPL has instructions for an easy-to-make pinhole camera with just card stock, aluminum foil, a paper clip and tape) and point the camera at that. Sure, it's not as dramatic a picture, but the crescent of the sun as the moon's shadow crosses will be far more clear — and this option is certainly safer.
People have reported temperatures dropped and crickets chirping during a solar eclipse.
3. Consider filming the experience around you instead of the sun itself. Solar eclipses are said to have a remarkable affect on the natural world: crickets start chirping, birds fall silent, winds start to pick up and stars begin to shine. While everyone will be chasing the shot (a flaring corona around the darkened moon's shadow) think about documenting the sideshow — which many people say can be just as dramatic. NASA has a great eclipse map that shows the path of the event and the time when the shadow will cross certain regions.
Whatever method you choose — make sure looking at the sun without a filter isn't one of them. And no, those cute summer sunglasses aren't going to cut it.