How to View the Sun Safely
The human eyes are amazing pieces of biology. They are able to process huge amounts of visual information. An interesting piece of information is that even if we touch them with our finger, a contact lens or a piece of dust, the eyes themselves do not feel it. Surrounding tissue does. But our eyes are still tremendously sensitive. That is why you should never look directly at the unfiltered sun with the naked eye. The intense ultraviolet and infrared light can do serious damage to your retinas.
The only time you could possibly look at the sun directly is during a total solar eclipse. You still need to practice safe viewing, even during an eclipse. In reality, you are not looking at the sun during a total solar eclipse. The moon is completely blocking the light from the sun from reaching your eyes. NASA has published an article stressing eye safety during an eclipse viewing.
You do not want to look at the sun using a conventional mirror, either, as it is the same as looking directly at the sun itself. The mirror is reflecting all the rays to your eyes.
So, how can you look at the sun? How do scientists get all those incredible pictures of the sun that appear in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet?
There is equipment you can purchase or get access to that will enable you to take a look at the sun either during the partial parts of an eclipse, or at other times.
Solar eclipse glasses. These glasses use special lenses that block 100% of the harmful ultraviolet and infrared radiation coming from the sun, and 99.999% of intense visible light. One company that provides solar eclipse glasses (and has images of what the sun looks like through the lenses) is Rainbow Symphony,
Solar filters. Solar filters are lenses that can be used with telescopes, binoculars or cameras. Several companies make products that you can use with cameras, binoculars or telescopes. They include Orion Telescopes, Lumicon, Thousand Oak Optical, Baader Planetarium and Coronado. Orion Telescopes has excellent filters specially made for binoculars.
Solar telescope. This is a specialized telescope that is made for the express purpose of viewing the sun, and has solar filters built into it prior to purchase. Coronado makes several versions of a “personal” solar telescope, one of which is actually called the Personal Solar Telescope. The “PST” is the least expensive of their solar telescope offerings.
Projection viewers. Projection viewers offer what could be called the safest way to view the sun, as you are looking at the sun using “indirect viewing.” That is, you are looking at a real time image, rather that directly at the sun. One company that has projection viewers you can use is Solarscope. Their sun-viewing equipment is called just that: Solarscope. Information at the company website promotes the fact that they are relatively simple to use, provide large fields of view, and are comparatively inexpensive.
So, if you or your children are interesting in the sun, and you want to encourage their interest in science, just remember to do your research. Then do your science responsibly, especially when it comes to your health and safety.