Can I Use a Welding Helmet to View an Eclipse?
Last Updated: September 18, 2020
If you’ve ever seen a solar eclipse, you should consider yourself to be pretty lucky. A total solar eclipse is a very rare event, and most people will never actually see one in their lifetime. Of course, in the age of social media and cameras in everyone’s pocket, you could easily see videos or pictures of one. But they only happen at any given place on earth once every 360-410 years. Naturally, this is several times longer than any of us will live, so if you’ve seen one before, you probably won’t see another in the same place again!
One of the difficult parts about eclipse viewing is avoiding damage to your eyes. Most of us know better than to stare at the sun. Likely, your parents told you not to do this as a child, and hopefully, you listened! If not, then you probably don’t have to worry about seeing a solar eclipse since you’re likely blind now! OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you definitely can go blind from looking directly at the sun. A solar eclipse still poses the same danger to your eyes, so how does one go about looking at a solar eclipse?
Using a Welding Helmet to View a Solar Eclipse
If you have a welding helmet laying around, then it stands to reason that you’ve probably performed some welding before. If so, then you know just how bright the flashes, sparks, and arcs created by welding can be. They can be so bright that welding without a mask is likely to result in “arc eye”. This is essentially sunburn in the eye and can cause serious damage. So, if a welding mask can protect your eyes from the damage they could sustain from welding, then they should be able to protect you when viewing an eclipse, right?
Well, it depends on the particular welding mask that you use. These helmets come in varying levels of shade. In fact, some of them allow you to adjust the shade level to meet the demands of the work and environment you’re in at any given time. This type of helmet is called a variable shade mask. Shade levels are listed by number, up to 13. With a shade level of 13, you won’t be able to see in normal light. Most variable shade masks will adjust from shade level #9 to #13. But is this sufficient for viewing a solar eclipse?
Shade Levels for Solar Eclipse Viewing
For viewing a solar eclipse, you need enough shade to protect your eyes, but not so much that you can no longer see the eclipse. According to NASA, it’s safe to view a solar eclipse through a welding mask, as long as it’s at least shade level #12. As it turns out, shade level #13 is a bit too dark for viewing an eclipse, so level #12 is really the only appropriate shade level.
Is My Welding Mask Safe?
NASA also recommends that you don’t use any equipment that’s more than three years old. So, if you’re unsure of how old that welding mask in the garage is, or what shade level it is, you may be best off not taking the chance with your eyesight. But if you think it’s within that age limit and you want to use it, there are other things you should also inspect it for first. Check the lenses on the inside and out to see if there are any scratches or cracks. If the glass is cracked on either side it could let in bright flashes that could be bad for your eyes. Also, check auto-darkening masks and make sure they’re working properly. When the sun becomes visible again after the eclipse, it can happen very quickly and you want to make sure the mask is prepared.
Solar eclipses are an incredible but rare phenomenon that is truly spectacular to witness. If you ever get the opportunity to see one in person, it’s well worth planning for and making the time to see. But if you want to actually look at it, a welding mask might be one of the best ways to do so. Just make sure it’s a mask that’s three years old or less and has shade level #12 for safe viewing.
Featured Image Credit: jbolles, Flickr