On August 21 of this year, a large stretch of the United States will bear witness to a rare celestial event: a full solar eclipse. Partial eclipses can happen several times a year, but full solar eclipses sometimes occur centuries apart. That’s why you should absolutely plan on spectating this momentous occasion, in which our Sun disappears from sight for up to two minutes. If you are in an area that promises a good view, you will want to grab a pair of eclipse viewing glasses now, before you’re stuck buying a pair from a price gouging vendor. A coast-to-coast total solar eclipse will occur for the first time in the U.S. since 1918. Everyone in North America will have a chance to see at least a partial eclipse.
Chicago and northern Illinois will get the most of its views, 80 to 90 percent coverage, around 1:20 p.m. Peak viewing will last about 6 minutes, and you’ll have to face south to southwest to see it. In southern Illinois the direct path, or path of totality, will pass over Carbondale and nearby Makanda. The total eclipse, and longest period of darkness, will last an estimated 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The eclipse path will enter around the south edge of St. Louis and move southeast into Kentucky.
The Adler Planetarium is going all out for the big solar eclipse. Dubbed Chicago’s Eclipse Fest, the Adler is hosting a whole block party complete with outdoor activities and live experiences throughout the morning and early afternoon. Attendees will be provided with solar viewing glasses for the big eclipse once it happens. The event will be family-friendly and is certainly one to consider for children.
Will you be gathering friends and family to see this rare solar eclipse in the Chicago area on August 21? And the big question is: where can you buy solar eclipse viewing glasses? The Chicago area is not in the path of totality, but we are still expecting to see the moon block about 90% of the sun during the height of the eclipse. You still have to wear special solar eclipse glasses. Without solar glasses, looking at the sun directly can harm your vision, perhaps permanently.
Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality (https://go.nasa.gov/2pC0lhe(link is external)). The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” (example shown at left) or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight. But we know that eclipse-viewing glasses will be pretty easy to come by in the weeks leading up to the long-anticipated celestial event, from public libraries to museums and hotels to eyewear retailers, all sorts of organizations are handing out free eclipse glasses.
Your best bet might be your local library. More than two million eclipse glasses will be given out free of charge by over 7,000 public libraries across the U.S. To find out if a library near you is participating in the giveaway program, which is being mounted with help from the National Center for Interactive Learning, click on this link.
Other places you might be able to snag some free eclipse glasses include your public health department, local astronomical societies (if one is in your area), and planetariums. And eyewear retailer Warby Parker is giving away free eclipse glasses at each of its 55 location (2 stores in Chicago, one in Oak Brook). If you can’t find any freebies, various eclipse eyewear options — from simple cardboard-framed filters costing only a few dollars to expensive eclipse-safe binoculars and cameras — can be purchased from drugstores, grocery stores, and online retailers. Wherever you get your glasses, make sure they’re safe for eclipse viewing (“counterfeit” viewers have been reported). Look for glasses bearing the designation ISO 12312-2, along with the manufacturer’s name and address. Avoid glasses that are more than three years old and those with scratched or wrinkled lenses.
Can’t find any freebies? Many stores are selling out, so be sure to call first to make sure a specific location has them in stock.
- 7-Eleven — Participating 7-Eleven stores are selling special eclipse glasses for $2.99.
- Best Buy — Area Best Buy stores will be selling solar eclipse viewing glasses. They have two sets of solar binoculars for $34.99 and $69.99, and a solar telescope $99.99.
- Lowe’s — Paper glasses can be purchased at Lowe’s for $1.98 per pair. Some stores will be receiving extra glasses within the next day or so.
- Kroger — Area Kroger stores will be selling solar eclipse viewing glasses for $1.99.
- Toys “R” Us — Solar eclipse sunglasses run $2.49 and the binocular version runs $7.99.
- Walmart — Solar eclipse glasses are $1 or you can buy a “Get Eclipsed” guidebook with solar glasses for $3.47. Walmart is also suggesting solar eclipse watch parties stocked with moon pies, Sunkist and Luna bars.
- Amazon — Carries a wealth of solar-eclipse glasses in bulk, but be sure to check and make sure the glasses are meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. Some glasses sold online do not meet that standard.