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Here’s How You Can Safely Watch the Eclipse Without Special Glasses

By now, you're probably aware of the fact that for a few brief moments on Monday, August 21, the moon will gently slide between the earth and the sun and create the first total solar eclipse visible in America since 1979. You might also be aware that several of the essential, special glasses to watch the solar eclipse are sold out across the country.

Still, we must watch it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. If you haven't been able to get your hands on the special ISO-compliant shades (and look out, there are a lot of scammers out there), here's a simple, NASA-approved hack that will allow you to watch the eclipse safely, for free. It's called the pinhole projection method.

How to make a pinhole project to watch the eclipse safely

You actually might have made one of these in science class way back in elementary school, but the concept is simple, and NASA has released a handy video tutorial (above) on how to make one out of common household items. The basic idea is that you can use small holes to project the image of the sun onto another surface. (Note: Do not look through the pinhole camera. It's only meant to project the image of the sun onto another surface.)

Supplies:

  • a cereal box
  • tape
  • scissors
  • aluminum foil
  • a nail
  • white paper
  • a pencil

Instructions:

1. Using the empty cereal box as your guide, trace bottom of box onto a piece of paper, and cut a rectangular strip.

2. Tape the strip to the inside bottom "floor" of the cereal box, and seal the top of the box.

3. Cut two small rectangular holes at each end of the top of the box.

4. Cut a length of aluminum foil and tape it over the left hole on top of the box, leaving no gaps.

5. Using the nail, poke a hole into the center of the aluminum foil.

6. Important: Make sure the sun is behind you, then look through the the right, unobstructed hole.

With the sliver of light shining through the pinhole you made, you will be able to watch the eclipse through the projector onto the white paper you taped to the bottom of the cereal box.

Another version of this hack, with pizza

This isn't the only way to pull off the pinhole projection method, of course. You could achieve the same with items like a pizza box, as Pizza Hut helpfully offered in the video above. Also, with the pizza box method, you can eat pizza beforehand. The instructions are basically the same, if you watch above.

Don't "make your own glasses" unless...

...You've got the right materials. I see you there, Googling for "how to make glasses" at the last minute and whatnot. Unless you have materials that are ISO-compliant, meaning they adhere to a very important standard for staring at the sun, you shouldn't do this and you will probably ruin your vision for life. If you do have proper lens materials, like "Number 14 Welder's Glass or mylar," this guide ain't bad. But seriously, don't mess around if you're not sure.

There's another, very different method...

It's called optical projection, and compared to the pinhole projection method, it actually provides bigger, brighter, and sharper images, according to the AAS. Unlike the pinhole method, it involves making modifications to a telescope, pair of binoculars, or other lens-based viewing system ( as in "optics," yo). We should make it clear that this is really for experienced astronomical observers, because even with modifications, there's a danger that you might damage your device if you aim it at sunlight this bright, or worse, your eyeballs. If you know what you're doing, go to the AAS for more information

Or try Neil deGrasse Tyson's hack

Now, if you don't have access to a cereal box or a pizza box, you can still pull off a version of this trick. The pinhole projection method just amounts to tiny holes projecting the image of the eclipse onto larger surfaces. To that point, one method the American Astronomical Society offered is taking your hands and, again, with your back to the sun, holding them up in a lattice-like, fingers-criss-crossed pattern over a patch of sidewalk. You'll be able to see the eclipse shine through on the shadows projected onto the sidewalk. You can get the same effect from standing under the leaves of a tree, too. The principles behind the method all hold.

But perhaps the best, easiest last-minute tool, that doesn't require you to build your own simple pinhole projector, is a common spaghetti colander, as Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out at a talk on Monday:

“If you can’t come here, you can’t go to totality, and you don’t have eclipse glasses, here’s what you do," he said. "Go into your kitchen and get a spaghetti strainer, or colander -- not the mesh, but the kind with holes in it -- and go outside and hold it out over the ground. Each one of those holes will act as pinhole camera and you’ll see hundreds of images of the crescent sun on the ground, and you can watch the eclipse unfold safely.”

No matter what, don't miss it.

Wanna see the solar eclipse for yourself? Check out Thrillist's state-by-state watch guides to the best viewing spots in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Wyoming.

You can also start preparing for your next eclipse with our guide.

Eric Vilas-Boas is a writer at Thrillist and runs the animation website The Dot and Line. Follow him on Twitter: @e_vb_