When you wonder how dark it gets during a solar eclipse, you likely have plenty of questions involving this fascinating event. The solar eclipse is an astronomical occurrence taking place every 1-2 years, impacting different parts of the world based on the rotation and orbit of the Earth. As such, different zones are affected and experience total/partial eclipses.
Fascinating! It’s why no solar eclipse occurs in the same place – or at least not frequently. In fact, an eclipse only impacts the same area once every 375 years, at least on estimate. So, when they happen, it’s a rare event indeed!
During an eclipse, a total or partial block of the sun occurs, resulting in a brief period of darkness. Of course, how dark all depends on where you’re looking from – referred to as “totality.” As the moon slowly transitions in “front” of the sun, the sky will gradually darken, appearing as though it’s nighttime.
When you “look” at the sun (hopefully with the aid of a solar filter), you’ll see what appears to be a black circle surrounded by a rim of light. Those under totality will experience a fascinating astronomical event – even see the stars! However, this can only happen if you’re under said “path of totality,” generally within a few hundred miles of the event. If you aren’t, you’ll experience a “partial eclipse.”
Depending on where you are, the effects will vary. For the most part though, a partial eclipse means the sky darkens as the moon moves in front of the sun. Observers won’t see the night sky, but it will look like evening for a short time. There are also other factors to consider – such as alignment and where you are relative to the positioning of the moon/sun. This determines – again – what you see.
Environment and cloud coverage is also a factor. If there’s overcast or smog, chances are your ability to view a solar eclipse is severely limited. If you’re not mindful of when the event takes place, you might miss it entirely, so always stay tuned for official eclipse happenings.
To better understand the solar eclipse, it goes through five stages:
- Partial solar eclipse, called the first contact.
- Second contact, the full solar eclipse happens here.
- Totality and maximum eclipse, where the moon completely covers the sun. If visible,the sky will darken light night time and temperature can even drop.
- Total eclipse ends, known as the third contact.
- 4th contact, the partial eclipse ends. This is the end of the solar eclipse event.
It’s dark during a solar eclipse, so I can look at the sun, right?
No! This is a dangerous misconception common with first viewers. The sun is “blocked” by the moon, so therefore you can look at the event without issue, correct? But the reality is, doing so is just as damaging to the eyes. Even with coverage or partial eclipses, it’s extremely dangerous to look at a solar eclipse. So, regardless of how you plan to view this event – if it’s in real time – never look at it directly. (Want to see a solar eclipse really safely? Buy these solar eclipse stamps!)
The only way to safely view an eclipse is through a few methods:
- You need a special eclipse viewer (which can be made for free).
- You’ll need special protective glasses (regular shades do NOT work and the specific brand is a certain regulation standard, although it is possible to make your own eclipse glasses).
- Safe viewing scopes or via online stream/television cast.
- Do NOT use regular smartphone cameras, telescopes, binoculars, or sunglasses. These will not provide adequate protection and greatly increase the risk of damaging your eyesight.
If you’re not sure about it still, we’ll give you some help.
First off, the correct type of sunglasses to wear are welders glasses (no 14 specifically). These, like the name implies, are safe for welding and as such can protect your eyesight from the intense sunlight during a solar eclipse.
There are also Mylar filters, which you’ll need if you plan to record/photograph the event. Not only will it allow you to use a recording device to see the eclipse, you can get untarnished video and photo recordings as well. You can also use a solar telescope if you feel like it!
You can also use a pinhole viewer, something everyone can make with the proper supplies available. Projectors only need cardboard and paper – as the eclipse shines through the pinhole, it creates an image on the paper (what you should look at). You can always see the starry sky, but essentially, treat an eclipsed sun the same as it is on a clear day.
Even though it’s dark, remember safety first.
What should I do if I damaged my eyes?
Even the best of us forget to be safe. Therefore, it’s possible to receive eye damage even if you were careful. In these instances, it’s important to address the damage and get proper care as soon as possible.
The reason damage occurs so quickly is because of focused sunlight. Once the moon shifts its position, hyper focused light is visible and can severely damage the retina, sclera, and macula of an eye. This results in burning and potential vision loss and/or damage. Retina tissue can’t regenerate, which is why safety is a primary concern.
If you feel burning or see any bright spots, light, or have impaired vision, you should immediately seek aid with an eye doctor. They can evaluate the extent of potential damage.
Now you have an idea of how dark it gets during a solar eclipse, along with a few ways to best watch the event. Solar eclipses are truly unique happenings are visible in different parts of the world every other year! Though it only lasts several minutes, it’s an even which has fascinated humans for thousands of years.
Enjoy yourselves and remember, whenever you plan to enjoy the eclipse, always protect your eyes! (Came here looking for information about lunar eclipses? Check out our guide to the difference between solar and lunar eclipses here.)