This season’s hottest and hardest-to-find accessory is a pair of cardboard eyewear making it possible to look directly at the sun.

Eclipse glasses, made with lenses that shield the wearer’s eyes from being blinded by the sun, are in high demand with the upcoming Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21. Local retailers, such as Lowe’s and Walmart, had been offering the glasses, but their displays were completely sold out.

Online retailers, such as Amazon, still have eyewear available, but time is running out to have the items delivered in time for the eclipse.

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The glasses are the only safe way that sky-watchers in Johnson County will be able to look directly at the eclipse, said Ryan Milligan, a solar physicist for NASA.

“It’s all about protecting your eyes. Even if there’s a little bit of the sun showing, you need to wear protective eyewear,” he said. “You’re risking your eyesight if you even look up without protection.”

The Aug. 21 total eclipse will be the first since 1918 to span the entirety of the continental U.S., from coast to coast. Though the band of totality will not be passing through central Indiana, the sun will be 91 percent covered by the moon.

But because a sliver of the sun is still visible, that means its harmful rays can still damage the sensitive parts of your eyes, said Kurt Williams, deputy director at Link Observatory Space Science Institute in Mooresville.

“Here in Indianapolis, we’re going to see 91 percent occlusion. So 91 percent of the light is going to disappear. It will still be pretty bright, but people will notice it,” he said. “People are going to want to see what’s going on, and if you look up to see, that’s when you can do damage. So there’s a lot of education going on about how to safely view it.”

Even people who are headed to the path of totality need to have protection, Milligan said. The only time it’s safe to take off the glasses and look up at the sun is when the eclipse has reached totality, which only lasts for a few minutes.

“Once you’re in that path of totality and the sun is completely covered up, then it’s safe to look up at the corona with the naked eye. It’s about the brightness of a full moon, so it’s not terribly bright. But once the moon starts to move away, the glasses have to go back on.”

Eclipse glasses are made with special lenses that block a majority of harmful rays from the sun, allowing people to look directly at the sun. Viewed through the lens, the sun appears more like a full moon, according to the American Astronomical Society.

The eclipse will be visible in varying degrees throughout the entire country, which has made the specialized eyewear a hot commodity.

Lowe’s Home Improvement featured a large display on the glasses, but by Friday, all of the glasses had been sold out. The same for Walmart in Franklin. The Kroger store on U.S. 31 in Franklin still had about a dozen pairs Friday morning.

On Amazon, dozens of different listings show different types of eclipse glasses. Many were out of stock in early August, but are being restocked and capable of being delivered in time for the eclipse.

Earlier this summer, the Johnson County Public Library was lucky enough to receive 1,000 pairs of the glasses, distributed to its four branches. The STAR Library Network, a program of the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning, offered libraries throughout the country the eclipse glasses for free.

Linda Kilbert, manager of the White River Township branch, applied for Johnson County to be one of the recipients, and they were approved.

“And they’re almost all gone. We’re holding a few back for branches that are having programming on Aug. 21, but people are really excited so most are gone,” she said.

Greenwood Public Library has also distributed hundreds of pairs of glasses, said Valerie Holbrook, virtual services manager at the library. They are trying to obtain more, but are unsure if they will able to, she said.

But besides just a shortage of glasses, another problem has been the glut of products on the market, particularly online, that have been deemed unsafe by the American Astronomical Society.

With demand as high as it is for the glasses, some companies have been selling products that carry fake safety standard certification but do not block enough of the sun’s radiation to make them truly safe, according to a release by the society.

The American Astronomical Society has put together a list of brands that they have tested to be reputable and safe.

While local astronomy enthusiasts and educators have been stoking excitement about the eclipse, a major focus of the educational programs given around the area have been on safety.

Representatives from Link Observatory Space Science Institute have been working with libraries throughout the area, traveling from Zionsville to Marion to Greenfield to talk about the eclipse. John Shepherd, chief science officer for the institute, will do a presentation at the White River branch of the Johnson County Public Library on Wednesday.

The science behind the eclipse is exciting, but people need to know about eye protection and how to use the glasses, Williams said.

“We need to spread the word on how to do this safely. We don’t need half of people going blind from this,” he said.

If you go

50 Shades of Dark: Preparing for the Solar Eclipse

What: John Shepherd, chief science offers at the Link Observatory in Mooresville will share facts and what to expect during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. Learn about safe ways to view the eclipse and receive free safe eclipse-watching glasses, while supplies last.

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Johnson County Public Library White River branch, 1664 Library Blvd., Greenwood

Cost: Free and open to the public

Register: pageafterpage.org

Solar Eclipse Safety

The total solar eclipse that will pass over the continental U.S. on Aug. 21 is a must-see event for people. Millions of people will flock to the path of totality to see the day turn totally dark as the moon completely covers the sun.

Millions more will watch from other locations, such as in Johnson County, where the moon will eclipse most of, but not all, of the sun.

Despite the curiosity and excitement building around the country for the event, NASA officials are warning people to take care of their eyesight. Here are some tricks and tips to ensure a safe viewing.

  • Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of the solar eclipse. To view it any other time, people must have specialized solar filters, such as the eclipse glasses that block out all of the harmful radiation from the sun.
  • Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe.
  • The only safe eyewear are those that have been verified to be compliant with international safety standards, and are marked with “ISO 12312-2,” according to NASA.
  • Always supervise children using solar filters.
  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
  • Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury.
  • Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.
  • If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phase.
  • Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.
  • If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.

— Information from Eclipse2017.NASA.gov

Safe Eclipse Glasses

Because of the popularity of the glasses, the market has been flooded with some products that carry that standard but are not actually safe. The American Astronomical Society has put together a list of approved brands to look for:

American Paper Optics: Eclipser, EclipseGlasses.com, 3dglassesonline.com

APM Telescopes: Sunfilter Glasses

Baader Planetarium: AstroSolar Silver/Gold Film

Celestron: EclipSmart Glasses & Viewers

DayStar: Solar Glasses

Explore Scientific: Solar Eclipse Sun Catcher Glasses

Lunt Solar Systems: SUNsafe SUNglasses

Meade Instruments: EclipseView Glasses & Viewers

Rainbow Symphony: Eclipse Shades

Seymour Solar: Helios Glasses

Thousand Oaks Optical: Silver-Black Polymer & SolarLite

TSE 17: Solar Filter Foil

— Information from the American Astronomical Society

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.