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Can’t find solar eclipse glasses? Grab a box and get crafty

A boy madea pinhole eclipse viewer at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC.MICHAEL REYNOLDS/European PressPhoto Agnecy

Dear procrastinators: If you’ve waited until the last possible minute to purchase the proper eyewear for viewing Monday’s rare solar eclipse, you might be out of luck.

Stores around the country are reporting that they no longer have solar eclipse glasses in stock. Online retailers are also warning that their supplies are tight because of the high demand for the safety specs ahead of the celestial event.

Experts say the only time it’s safe to stare directly at the sun without eye protection during a total solar eclipse is the moment of “totality,” when the moon completely obscures the sun’s blazing disc. Looking at the eclipse at any other time without protective glasses can permanently damage eyes.


But the approximately two minutes of so-called totality will only be visible from within a 70-mile-wide corridor that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina.

That means people everywhere else in the country — we’re talking about you, New England — will only experience some degree of a partial eclipse, depending on the location. In these cases, the protective glasses are a must.

But with just days to go, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find them.

Locally, the Boston Public Library announced this week that its stash of glasses has been scooped up.

“Due to popular demand, Boston Public Library’s limited supply of solar eclipse glasses is no longer available,” said library officials.

Similarly, an employee at Lowe’s said that the home improvement chain is completely sold out “at all locations” in Greater Boston.

And even the Museum of Science gift shop, an obvious place to pick up both some knowledge about the eclipse and a pair of regulation-grade shades, was emptied of its supply.

“They went very quickly,” a woman who answered the phone at the gift shop said Tuesday. “We ran out sometime last week.”


With limited options left to secure a set of the solar eclipse lenses, what is one to do?

Here’s a list of alternatives:

Try the pinhole method

According to NASA officials, you don’t need a pair of safety glasses to get the most out of the solar eclipse.

With just a few simple supplies, according to the space organization, you can make what’s called a “pinhole camera” to view the event both safely and easily.

First, grab a box that you can hold in your hands. Cut a large hole in the bottom left-hand corner of the box. Next, cover that hole with a piece of aluminum foil, and then poke a small pinhole in the middle of it.

Lastly, cut a peephole on the same side of the box that the foil is on, but in the opposite corner.

When the eclipse begins, put your eye up to the second hole, while holding the box so that the sun is shining into the pinhole in the aluminum foil. The eclipse image will be projected inside the box.

NASA has a video on its website that offers step-by-step instructions on how to make the viewer.

Make your own projector.

If staring into a hole in a box isn’t your thing, you can always slap together a makeshift projector.

According to NASA’s website, all you need is two pieces of white “card stock” paper, scissors, tape, aluminum foil, and a pin.


To get started, take one piece of paper and cut a square in the middle of it. From there, tape a piece of aluminum foil over that hole. Using the pin, poke a tiny hole through the foil.

Voila — you’ve got a projector.

When the eclipse begins, place the second piece of paper on the ground, and then hold your homemade projector — tinfoil side-up — directly over it.

The sun will shine through the small hole in the tinfoil and will be projected on the paper below. As the moon moves between the sun and earth, a “reflection” of the eclipse will be visible on the paper.

Take it all in from your computer screen.

If you’re like the author of this article, there’s nary a time of day that you’re not staring at a screen. So why not watch the eclipse that way? Aside from perusing social media, where photos of the action will probably be posted with reckless abandon, websites will be hosting the event live, via video.

The Eclipse Ballooning Project, a NASA-funded initiative that includes students and researchers from 55 teams nationwide, will also be floating balloons within the “path of totality.”

Each balloon will carry a livestream camera. The project will give viewers a unique perspective of the eclipse from 100,000 feet above the Earth, organizers said.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.