Is it really that important to see the eclipse from within the “zone of totality”? How much of the eclipse can I see from where I live? How can I look at it without hurting my eyes? You had questions; our expert panel had answers.

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On Tuesday, we asked for your questions about the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse and put them to our expert panel:

• Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton

• University of Washington astrophysicist Sarah Tuttle

• Bryan Brewer, author of the book “Eclipse: History. Science. Awe.”

Here are a few of the best, or most frequently asked, questions about the eclipse. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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How does the moon (which is small) block the sun (which is so big)?

This is a mixture of geometry and a little bit of luck. Here is a diagram that gives you some idea of how the moon — which is smaller but much closer — is able to fully eclipse the sun.

— Sarah Tuttle

Could you explain the experience of the eclipse moving from west to east?

The sun appears to move across the sky from east to west, due to the rotation of the Earth. The moon moves in its own orbit from west to east, and this is what causes the shadow to move from west to east. An easy way to confirm this west-to-east motion of the moon is to observe the moon on successive nights at the same time. You’ll see that each night the moon’s position is about 12 degrees farther east from the previous night.

— Bryan Brewer

What can I expect to see where I live? What time will I be able to see the peak of the eclipse?

The eclipse will look different wherever you are. This nice animation from Vox allows you to enter your zip code and see exactly what the eclipse will look like (and what time to expect it).

— Sarah Tuttle

Here’s a great interactive map (for desktop computers) that lets you zoom in to any location. If you’re in Washington, remember that you’ll experience only a partial eclipse.

— Sandi Doughton

Can I still go outside during the eclipse, without glasses, if I don’t look at the sun at all?

If you aren’t looking directly at the sun, you don’t need any sort of protection. You can go about your business without any worries. The eclipse won’t change anything about the sun (except over the course of the eclipse changing the amount of light coming from it).

If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can try a variety of ways to view the eclipse without looking directly. Most involve some kind of pinhole cameras, but leafy trees provide an interesting version of this.

— Sarah Tuttle

How can I safely photograph the eclipse with my smartphone or iPad?

NASA has tips on taking pictures of the eclipse with your smartphone, and what you might expect in your photographs. Similar advice would apply with your iPad or other tablet. I’d in particular be mindful of inadvertently looking at the sun.

— Sarah Tuttle

What’s so special about being inside the path of totality? Isn’t 95 percent good enough?

If you’re outside the path, you will have an interesting experience, but you will miss the dramatic effects, especially the view of the solar corona. It’s like going to a Seahawks game and standing just outside the stadium during the game. It’s worth the effort to get inside the path if you can.

— Bryan Brewer

Editor’s note: If you’re stuck at home, you can still watch the eclipse online. Here’s how.

Any tips for people traveling to a totality locality and trying to get close by car? Do you have any roadside viewing advice?

I’d keep an eye on the traffic — estimates are all over the place about how many people will be trying to get hither, thither and yon during the course of the eclipse. If you do pull over to view the eclipse, make sure you’re fully off the road and not blocking traffic. I’d also bring snacks. Once the eclipse is over, I suspect everyone will be trying to leave wherever they’ve gotten to, so slow will likely be the name of the game.

— Sarah Tuttle

How will wildfires affect the safety of traveling/viewing the eclipse near Bend, Oregon?

One of the downsides of this late-summer eclipse is that wildfires near and far are causing safety and visibility issues. I would check conditions in the days leading up to the eclipse and stay alert for possible changes in conditions. Because of the unknown nature of traffic and access, travel with food & water in the car. If it were me, I’d probably keep an eye on either radio or cell service to make sure you can hear alerts if areas need to be evacuated. You can find some updates on those fires here.

— Sarah Tuttle

During totality, is it OK to look at the corona with regular binoculars?

During totality (one to two minutes, roughly, depending on where you are viewing the eclipse), it is safe to view the corona with regular binoculars without a solar filter. I would just keep an eye on the time. The magnification of the light will increase damage (compared to naked-eye viewing) if you were to use the unfiltered binoculars before or after totality.

— Sarah Tuttle

I am planning to travel to Madras, Oregon, to see the eclipse in totality. Since health care access will be limited, what should I bring in my first-aid kit to help in the event of eye injury?

Unfortunately, if you did damage your eye by looking at the sun during the eclipse you likely wouldn’t notice during or even immediately after the eclipse. Most likely you would wake up in the morning and find the center of your field of vision blurry. There is no eye-care kit that would help once you spent time looking at the sun without eye protection.

— Sarah Tuttle

Where can I find good solar eclipse glasses? How can I tell if the ones I bought are fake? What would happen to my eyes if I use fake glasses?

It’s going to be tough to find eclipse glasses in town at this late date. Last I heard, the gift shop at Pacific Science Center still had a few. The Science Center will also be handing out 800 pairs the morning of the eclipse — but only to folks who pay admission. The Museum of Flight is sponsoring a free, outdoor viewing party, and will have 1,000 pairs of glasses to distribute. Some local libraries might still have a few glasses, and branches that are hosting viewing events will have a limited supply to distribute the morning of the eclipse.

The American Astronomical Society compiled a list of retailers selling certified, safe eclipse glasses across the country — but many are sold out.

To spot a fake, check your eclipse glasses for the ISO certification label. They should be certified to the ISO 12312-2 standard, and should be marked as such. However, there have been reports of scammers faking the labels. The American Astronomical Society recently issued new guidelines to help distinguish legitimate from substandard glasses. If the glasses are manufactured or sold by companies on the AAS’ list of reputable brands and dealers, they should be safe.

You can also evaluate the glasses yourself. Legitimate eclipse glasses are very dark, and when you put them on, you really can’t see anything EXCEPT the sun. “If you can see ordinary household lights through your eclipse glasses or handheld viewer, it’s no good,” the AAS says. “Safe solar filters produce a view of the sun that is comfortably bright (like the full moon), in focus and surrounded by black sky. If you glance at the sun through your solar filter and find it uncomfortably bright, out of focus and surrounded by a murky haze, it’s [the viewer is] no good.” Only extremely bright objects, like the sun or “something comparably bright, such as the sun reflected in a mirror, a sunlight off shiny metal, the hot filament of an unfrosted incandescent light bulb, a bright halogen light bulb, a multiple-white-LED flashlight, or an arc-welder’s torch” would be visible, the AAS says.

— Sandi Doughton


Could I watch using an arc welding hood?

Welding glass that is rated 14 or above is safe for viewing the eclipse. If you are able to confirm that your welding hood is adequate, go ahead and use it.

— Sarah Tuttle

I’ve heard you can stack two or three pairs of sunglasses if you can’t find the special glasses anywhere. Thoughts?

Don’t do it! You could seriously damage your eyes. If you can’t get eclipse glasses or welder’s glass, the only way to safely view the partial eclipse is indirectly, through a pinhole projector.

— Sandi Doughton

What happens if you’re driving a car that’s facing toward the sun during the eclipse? You can’t wear the glasses while driving.

You don’t stare directly at the sun when you’re driving — ever. So if you don’t stare directly at the sun during the eclipse, you will be fine.

— Sandi Doughton

When was the first written history of a solar eclipse and did it include an account of the people’s reactions then?

Most historians say the first record of a solar eclipse was in China in 2134 BCE. There is no account of people’s reactions … except that the two royal astronomers who failed to predict the eclipse were beheaded for their astronomical shortcomings.

— Bryan Brewer

Do scientists really learn anything from studying solar eclipses these days?

Yes. It’s possible to view and analyze the corona with modern telescopes that block out the body of the sun. But those instruments obscure the inner portion of the corona, where a lot interesting stuff is going on. That inner portion is visible during an eclipse — and one of the this year’s studies will stitch together images from more than 60 telescopes across the country to create a 90-minute video focused on that inner region.

The corona is a fascinating area, much hotter than the surface of the sun. The sun’s outer atmosphere also plays a role in solar storms, which can disrupt electronics on earth.

This year’s eclipse is an opportunity for thousands of citizen scientists to participate in eclipse observations.

— Sandi Doughton

I still have questions! How do I learn more about the eclipse?

Find all our eclipse coverage here.