There are a variety of ways to observe an eclipse, such as watching the solar eclipse with a welding helmet. This is important, because while the eclipse event is a fascinating one, unprotected observation can lead to eye damage. In some cases, extended exposure leads to permanent problems. So, it’s why whenever you look for information about the solar eclipse, chances are you’re cautioned to protect your eyes or use a special method for safe viewing.
Is a welding helmet safe for a solar eclipse?
The answer, of course, is yes. Welding helmets are designed to protect the wearer for industrial applications and work. Typically, they’re worn for – you guessed it – welding. The protective screen keeps one’s eyes safe from intense sources of light while simultaneously shielding the face from torches. That’s because welding involves handling torch tools for metal cutting or similar. The torch flame is extremely bright and extensive exposure to unprotected eyes yields damage, often permanent.
So, naturally, something capable of protecting a welders’ eyes can do the same for an eclipse event, yes? It can, however, there are some important distinctions. Welder helmets have different shade filters for different situations. According to NASA, the only safe shade filter is 12 and up. Even if you have a welder helmet lying around, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for direct viewing.
To find out what filter your welding helmet is you’ll need to see either its specifications or check the helmet itself (if applicable) for a shade indicator. Some have an indicator while others may not. If you can’t find it or can’t tell, we don’t recommend taking the risk. Once more, while a welding helmet is a potential solution to safely viewing a solar eclipse, it’s not the most practical. They’re bulky and heavy and primarily used for industrial labor. They’re a good backup, but better options do exist.
Why is it dangerous to view a solar eclipse?
It can certainly seem surprising, but viewing a solar eclipse presents several dangers as you’re no doubt aware of. But why? After all, during totality, the sky darkens, and when the sun is obscured you can even see the night sky. So why would looking present a problem?
The danger is, in fact, because there’s a lack of light. Assume you and friends are viewing the event (without protection) under totality – that is to say the moment the moon completely obscures the sun. As we pointed out, things get dark. But for those not wearing protective shades or similar, they’re likely staring right at the corona – the blacks sphere where the sun’s light forms a rim of light. (Looking for the best places to view a solar eclipse? Click that link!)
The danger here comes from the transitioning phases. The moon is still moving. Once it shifts to a partial eclipse, bright focused light comes through the corona, shining on observers. It’s abrupt and even a few seconds of seeing it can cause serious eye damage.
Because it’s dark, the pupils dilate and widen to adjust to the lack of brightness. That means, once the transition occurs, they’re absorbing more light. The unaware person’s eyes will be flooded with sunlight, resulting in potential damage. During this process, some don’t realize their eyes are getting burned, as pain or symptoms are not immediate. In fact, within one to several hours is where vision symptoms begin to occur. Because it’s not obvious one’s eyes are harmed, it’s easy to stare too long into a transitioning solar eclipse, and the more exposure the likelier it is permanent damage occurs – including blindness.
This is why protective eyewear is so important, or projector sheets/boxes. Shades can properly shield the eyes, even with direct observation of sunlight.
If you’re still set on using a welder’s helmet for a solar eclipse (or don’t want to use other eclipse viewing methods), make sure it’s safe. Remember, only a shader value of 12 (or up) can properly protect your eyes. However, each experience will vary. Some say 12 is too bright or higher values are too dark.
Most of the time, welder masks auto-darken. In order to properly test them, you’ll want to expose them to light sources to see if they provide proper cover. Using a lighter, the sun, or other sources of bright illumination are good methods – but again, safety first. Always conduct this test before observing an eclipse with a welding helmet. Improper protection cannot shield your eyes from intense sunlight, so air on the side of caution.
What other ways can I see a solar eclipse?
According to NASA, there are several safe ways to watch an eclipse. We highly recommend these options if possible.
- Protective shader glasses (only approved for eclipse viewing) – these are like welder shaders in that they are designed to shield against intense sunlight. They can even be made at home for some DIY solar eclipse glasses.
- Solar eclipse projector sheets/boxes – things you can make at home with a few pieces of hard paper and cardboard boxes, allowing for an indirect viewing of the eclipse.
- Special lenses for recording devices/cameras.
Remember, typical phone cameras or similar are not sufficient for safe viewing, and can both damage your device and eyes.
If you’re out of options or can’t acquire/build the above, a welding helmet is still an option (with the proper shader). Granted, your view may be obscured, so keep this in mind.
If you think you’ve experienced eye damage, you may experience a variety of symptoms: blurred vision, afterimages, loss of sight in one/both eyes, specks of light, visual “debris,” and more. Any of these indicates eye damage so see a specialist promptly.
Watching the solar eclipse with a welding helmet may not be the traditional way of catching this cosmic happening, but still a potential solution. With the proper shading filter, light will be blocked to protect the eyes during observation. This is extremely important as eye damage is very common during these happenings, so always take precautions when preparing for the event. (Looking for some more great solar eclipse products? Click here to see some fantastic solar eclipse stamps!)