No Solar Eclipse Glasses? Here's What to Do

Certainly, this isn't a good substitute (and of course you will want to turn your back to the sun if you are using any device structured like this), but there are some safe DIY alternatives out there. . (Photo: kiljander/Flickr)

Are you one of the many (including yours truly) who waited until the week before the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse to pick up a pair of specialized eclipse glasses?

A surge of interest in the eclipse, the first coast-to-coast solar spectacle in nearly a century, has led to retailers all around the country selling out of the specialized filters needed to view the event safely. The shortfall was further exasperated after Amazon issued a recall in the wake of reports of fraudulent glasses. Unfortunately, many reputable vendors selling products certified by the ISO were also caught up in the ban.

"Instead of going after the bad guys they [Amazon] appear to be covering their backside and saying that no vendors can be trusted,” American Astronomical Society press officer Richard Tresch Fienberg told in an emailed statement. “This is hurting legitimate companies’ reputations and potentially costing them a lot of money. It has caused mass confusion within the eclipse-chasing community and the public more generally."

As a result, prices for eclipse glasses soared. Generally costing less than a couple dollars per pair, it's now rare to find them offered through Amazon's third-party retailers for anything less than 10 or 20 times that amount. In cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, people camped out in the hopes of winning a shot at purchasing what stock local planetariums and science centers have left. On eBay, a single pair of glasses with nearly two dozen bids will set you back anywhere from $30 to $45 –– shipping not included.

So how can you view Monday's big event without ruining your eyes? Here are a few ideas:

Call your local library or science center

Over 2 million eclipses glasses were distributed to more than 7,000 libraries throughout the United States as part of the nationwide Star-Net campaign. By checking this map, chances are good that there's a local library near you that may still have some glasses. Many, such as my own in Ithaca, are having events the day of the eclipse where the glasses will be handed out. Just make sure you arrive early!

It's also worth calling your local science center or planetarium. NASA has a handy list of participating locations throughout the U.S. here.

Visit 7-Eleven, Walmart and other retail chains

7-Eleven embraced eclipse fever early on and has been offering one- or two-pack of AAS-approved eclipse glasses for sale at locations nationwide. While many have reported selling out, the sheer number of 7-Eleven stories in some cities could mean there are still some on the shelves.

Other retail chains with reported stock include Walmart, Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Lowe's and even Toys R Us.

Buy a welding helmet

A welding helmet with a safety lens rating of 12 or higher is safe to use to view a solar eclipse.
A welding helmet with a safety lens rating of 13 or 14 is safe to use to view a solar eclipse. (Photo: Collin Anderson/flickr)

You might look like Darth Vader's cousin, but the right welding helmet will allow you to safely view the eclipse during all of its stages. The key to not damaging your retinas is to choose one with a shade rating of 13 or higher, NASA says. Because most people who own welding helmets do not purchase ratings this high, it's imperative that you first check the shade number on the helmet before use.

The other thing to try is simply purchasing a 13+-rated replacement lens for a welding helmet, a money-saving move if you don't actually need the helmet itself. You could then incorporate the lens into your own cardboard viewer or other DIY headpiece.

This ABC News affiliate found that many hardware stores were sold out of welding helmets, even ones with safety ratings as low as 8, which means some folks may not heed NASA's warning about eye safety. They did find a welding mask with shade 13 tint, but it'll cost you $130.

Also, it's worth noting that the American Astronomical Society does not mention welding helmets or masks as safe substitutes for proper solar eclipse glasses.

Buy a Volvo XC60

Those few who purchase a Volvo XC60 over the next few days can pick up a moonroof 'eclipse filter' for free.
Those few who purchase a Volvo XC60 over the next few days can pick up a moonroof 'eclipse filter' for free. (Photo: Volvo)

If money is no object, and you're looking to put the entire family under one giant filter, race to your local Volvo dealer. As part of a rather unique promotion, the automaker is offering a free "Panoramic Moonroof Eclipse Viewer." Just like your standard eclipse glasses, it's ISO-certified 12312-2. It also uses magnets to attach to the top of your vehicle, ensuring that a stiff breeze won't suddenly lead to everyone being blinded by the sun.

Unfortunately, besides the vehicle's $41,000 starting price tag, the promotional filters themselves will only be available to dealers along the path of totality.

Create a pinhole camera

If looking directly at the sun isn't an option, you could always throw together a pinhole camera and project the sun's changing shape onto a piece of paper. Anything from a sheet of paper to a shoe or cereal box will suffice. Check out NASA's step-by-step instructions here or watch the video above.

Grab a colander

A colander can act as a quick pinhole camera to safely view the solar eclipse.
A colander can act as a quick pinhole camera to safely view the solar eclipse. (Photo: John Lord/flickr)

If all else fails and you find yourself without a way to view the eclipse at the last minute, grab a colander from the kitchen. In a pinch, it works as a great pinhole camera and will give you dozens of little eclipse shadows to gawk over.