Total solar eclipses are rare events. Most of us are lucky to see one in a lifetime. In fact, they recur at any given place on earth about once every 400 years. If you’re preparing for the next eclipse – something you won’t want to miss – you may be wondering whether you can view a solar eclipse with a welding helmet.
It’s common knowledge that you can’t look directly at the sun, especially during a solar eclipse. Most people use special viewing glasses to watch eclipses. But if you can’t get a hold of glasses, you may question whether you can just watch through your welding helmet.
Can You View a Solar Eclipse with a Welding Helmet?
In short, yes, you can view a solar eclipse with a welding helmet. But is it safe? That really depends on your helmet.
According to NASA, you can use a welding helmet to view a solar eclipse as long as it’s at least Shade 12. Many people find that Shade 13 provides the best possible view. Shade 14, on the other hand, is much too dark to see the eclipse.
What if you don’t know what shade your welding helmet is? Don’t use it. You don’t want to take any chances with your eyes. If you stare at the sun without the appropriate safety equipment, you could permanently damage your eyes.
There are two other things that you need to keep in mind if you want to safely view the eclipse with your welding helmet:
- Viewing Method: If you’re going to view the eclipse through your welding helmet, make sure that you put on your helmet before you start looking at the sun. Don’t stare at the sun and then put on your helmet. More importantly, do not take off the helmet while you’re viewing the eclipse. If you need to take off your helmet, turn your face away and then remove it.
- Level of Protection: Along with the shade level, it’s also important to make sure that the helmet provides complete protection for your eyes. The viewing window should be the appropriate size, and it should be free of cracks or damage that may disrupt the protective shield it provides.
Are Eclipse Glasses Better?
While you can certainly view a solar eclipse with a welding helmet, NASA still recommends using eclipse glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standard.
If you don’t use glasses that meet this standard, you could wind up with eye damage that’s temporary or permanent.
But if you have the right welding helmet on hand, there’s no reason to spend a fortune on eclipse glasses that you’ll only use once. As long as your helmet is Shade 12 or higher, you should be able to view the solar eclipse without any worry.
It’s usually hard to get a hold of eclipse glasses because stores sell out so quickly. It’s a rare and once-in-a-lifetime event, so naturally, everyone wants to see it. Stores know that everyone wants a pair, so they raise the prices.
If you have a welding helmet and don’t want to fight with people to get a pair of glasses, you can save yourself time, frustration, and money using it to watch the eclipse.
Eclipse Viewing Safety Tips
NASA has other recommendations on how to safely view the eclipse:
- Don’t use regular dark sunglasses to view the eclipse. They don’t provide enough protection.
- Don’t use homemade filters. You can’t be sure that they’ll protect your eyes from damage.
- Don’t use equipment that’s older than three years.
- Don’t use glasses or a welding helmet with damaged lenses.
- Only use properly certified glasses or the right welding helmet to view the eclipse.
What Happens if You Stare the Sun Without Eye Protection?
You may have heard that you can go blind from staring at the sun, and this is partially true.
When you stare at the sun, ultraviolet (UV) light floods your retina and burns the exposed tissue. UV rays form free radicals in the retina, which oxidize nearby tissues.
This type of damage can happen after just a few seconds of staring at the sun.
When more serious damage occurs, UV rays literally burn a hole in the retinal tissues. Ultimately, this destroys the rod and cone photoreceptors in the retina, and that damage is called solar or photic retinopathy. This creates a small blind spot, known as a scotoma, in your central vision.
You may not feel any pain right away because your retina doesn’t have pain receptors. But after a few hours or days, your eyes may start hurting, your vision may be blurred, and you may start seeing yellow or dark spots.
Fortunately, people who suffer solar retinopathy usually make a full recovery, but it can take up to 12 months to fully heal. Some people never fully recover their vision. They may have blurriness or see spots for the rest of their lives.
Mild cases of photic retinopathy include:
- Eye soreness
- Watery eyes
- Light sensitivity
More serious cases may produce the following symptoms:
- Impaired color vision
- Blurry vision
- Distorted vision
- Difficulty making out shapes
- Blind spots
- Permanent eye damage
The last thing you want is permanent eye damage because you didn’t take the right steps to safely view the eclipse.
The Bottom Line
If you want to safely view a solar eclipse with a welding helmet, you can use it as long as it’s Shade 12 or higher. Even when using your helmet, try not to stare at the eclipse for long periods of time. Give your eyes a rest from time to time.
Never use an old welding helmet to view an eclipse if you don’t know which shade it is. Most importantly, make sure that the viewing window in your helmet is free of damage and provides full protection for your eyes.
If all else fails, you can always use the appropriate eclipse glasses to see this special event. But never look directly at the sun for any length of time without the appropriate protection.