As eclipse nears, planetarium director offers pointers for safe viewing

Aug 15, 2017

On the afternoon of Monday, August 21, Western New Yorkers will have the opportunity - weather permitting - to enjoy a partial solar eclipse. A local planetarium director is clearing up a misconception about the event and offers pointers for viewing it safely.


The Moon is set to cross between the Sun and Earth in an orbital position that casts its shadow over North America. Totality - a full cover of the Sun's disc by the Moon - will be viewed along a path from the Pacific Northwest to the Carolinas.

Mark Percy, director of the Williamsville Planetarium, located within Williamsville North High School.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

In Buffalo, the Moon will obscure about 72 percent of the Sun. Mark Percy, who directs the Williamsville Planetarium, says the Sun will still be dangerous to look at directly.

"I think the biggest misconception people have is what to expect in the sky and for how long," Percy said. "Everybody is hearing about the daytime darkness that you can see along the path of totality. But here in Buffalo, there won't be any noticeable darkening."

The safest ways to observe it are by projecting a reflection, or by using special filtered glasses, the latter of which will be provided at many local viewings.

The glasses are being widely distributed but Percy warns one should be careful about where they are acquired. Planetariums, museums and other venues hosting viewing events will distribute glasses produced by reputable manufacturers. Percy says proper filtered glasses should feature a safety label by an accredited institution.

"If they are properly made they block - and I'm not making this statistic up - 99.999 percent of the light that's coming through the glasses from the visible part of the spectrum and, more importantly, all of the invisible infrared and ultraviolet light which is what damages your eyes," Percy said. 

He warns users not to attempt looking at the Sun through binoculars or a telescope, even if wearing special glasses. Those devices, he explained, gather more light than what the glasses are designed to handle. 

"They do make filters that can go over binoculars or telescopes, but those tools gather more light than the eye does, so you actually need a darker filter to use with binoculars or a telescope," he added. "If you were to try to use it just with the glasses, it wouldn't be enough protection."

Projections of the sun are also a safe option. Percy suggested a technique involving a small mirror. Cut a small hole, about the size of a dime, and slip it over the mirror. At the time of the eclipse, use the mirror to reflect the sun's image on to a wall or screen. The viewer will be able to see the crescent created by the partial eclipse. 

A full list of viewing events and safety pointers is available at buffaloeclipse.org.

Percy says Buffalo will eventually get the chance to view a solar eclipse, on April 8, 2024.