The 2024 Eclipse: Fake Glasses, Conspiracies, and FOMO

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Monday, Monday Monday! It’s the event of a lifetime, assuming you live in a specific band of North and Central America, you were born in the past few years and will die in the next few years, and/or that you are completely unable to travel anywhere! That’s right, it’s a total solar eclipse of the heart, and also of the sky, happening on Monday, April 8, 2024. Let’s talk about it!

I’ll start with the most important information up front, as I learned in intro to journalism 101: there ARE counterfeit eclipse glasses circulating around, meaning there’s at least one factory producing glasses that say they come from a trusted company but do not. And to make matters worse, some of those counterfeit glasses may not actually be safe for viewing the eclipse. So! If you have not bought glasses yet, please get them from a trusted source. The American Astronomical Society has a list of trusted vendors, which includes stores you can easily visit in person if it’s too late to order online. Apparently Warby Parker is giving them away for free, which is very cool! You also might have luck at your local library or science museum.

If you got glasses from a shady (haha) source, please test them before using them: put them on inside, and if you can see anything besides a faint glow from extremely bright lights, that’s bad and you should throw them away. If you can’t, head outside and try them again. You should be unable to see anything but the sun and bright reflections from the sun. If that works, then you can glance at the sun with them for less than a second and see a “comfortably bright” disk.

If your untrustworthy glasses pass all three tests, you can probably safely use them to glance at the eclipse for a few seconds every five minutes. Don’t worry, you’re probably not going to want to sit there for the entire eclipse and just stare at it. It’s cool but it’s not cooler the more you look at it, I assure you.

You can also do what I did back in 2017 and buy shade 14 welding goggles. These are actually kind of rare, in that most welders don’t need or want them that dark, so don’t expect to be able to use whatever welding goggles you have lying around the house. But if you do go this route, you will objectively look cooler than everyone else at your eclipse viewing party.

Finally, you can feel free to disregard everything I’ve just said if you’re a fascist trying to overthrow American democracy. Just go out there and rawdog that eclipse with your bare eyeballs like a real man. Stare it down. Use your unblinking ferocity to scare the moon back to the nighttime where it belongs.

Unfortunately, Trump probably learned his lesson, or at least his aides did and will probably just show him a movie of an eclipse and he will assume that was it. But apparently there are lots of completely delusional Christians who think that because eclipse glasses and severe retinal damage weren’t mentioned in the Bible, God wants them to stare at the eclipse and those cardboard glasses with tinted plastic are probably, like, mind control devices or whatever.

I honestly assumed these posts were satire but I looked them up on Facebook and it is my great displeasure to tell you that they’re real and they’re really delusional and this isn’t even the worst of it. For instance, the lady who posted the original warning to not wear glasses, Liz, also doesn’t thinks that the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed because it is an actual KEY that will unlock the gates of hell at the bottom of the ocean when CERN starts up the same day as the eclipse. Like…yes, CERN actually started back up after their winter break on March 11, and that’s just one particular facility that will start up that day, and of course Baltimore harbor isn’t exactly a bottomless pit and even if it were it wouldn’t come anywhere near CERN in Europe and you know what, never mind, yes, that’s what’s happening. Why not.

The sort of good news is that Liz got a LOT of pushback on her initial eclipse post, which led her to change her mind about how the eclipse is “actually less bright,” and post a new suggestion, straight from the Lord, that people just not look up at the eclipse at all, with or without glasses.

You may wonder why I even care whether these wack jobs stare at the sun and the answer is that they are clearly so far gone that not even severe retinal damage will convince them they’re wrong. Honestly they’ll probably deny there’s anything wrong and keep driving around town doing errands until they run over a child, who they will assume was just placed in front of their 6’ tall SUV by Satan to try to get them to rebuke their Lord. That wily Satan!

Apparently there’s several more conspiracy theories about the eclipse, all of them religious. Snopes has already debunked the claim that the eclipse will be visible across all seven US cities named “Ninevah,” which is also the name of an ancient city that the Bible called evil. Apparently there are only SIX US cities named Ninevah, the eclipse will only be visible from two of them, and the Bible is a made up fairy tale and in the real world, entire cities aren’t “evil.” Except for maybe Denver? The demonic blue horse with the glowing eyes at the airport makes a very convincing argument. Fun fact, just before “Bluecifer” was completed, a chunk of it fell off and killed its sculptor. I don’t actually believe in a supernatural evil but if I did, well, I would avoid the Denver airport.

So, anyway, please enjoy the eclipse safely on Monday and don’t worry about it heralding in the coming apocalypse. Total eclipses are actually pretty common, as astronomical events go. There’s one every year or two, it’s just that sometimes the place you need to be on the Earth is a little annoying to get to. For instance, the last one was in 2021 but if you aren’t a scientist or a penguin you probably missed it.

But that’s why I joke about people calling this a “once in a lifetime” experience. Yes, if you happen to live in the path of totality, it maybe is the only time in your life you could possibly see a total solar eclipse from the comfort of your own toilet. Assuming your bathroom window is at the appropriate angle of course.

And yes, many people don’t have the time or money to travel around the world to see an eclipse, and that sucks. So I’m glad that this one is going through some major population centers.

And yes, I do hope that the people who are able to get to the path of totality take advantage of the opportunity, because a total solar eclipse is super fucking cool to see. I drove about eight hours to see the solar eclipse in 2017 and it ruled.

But all that said, I just want people to keep their expectations in check: it’s springtime. Wherever you are, there’s always a chance that there will be clouds. If you live nearby and are planning to travel into the path of totality, you might end up in a traffic jam and might not get there in time. If you are just planning to watch the partial eclipse, well, there’s a chance you won’t experience the awe that you’re hoping for.

And I don’t know, as someone who has in the past suffered from severe FOMO, I just worry about the people who are getting super hyped up about a once in a lifetime event, only to see a bunch of stupid clouds, and then think, wow, I missed out on this ONCE IN A LIFETIME EVENT! 

If that’s you, please know that the next one is in just two years: in August of 2026, you can see a total solar eclipse from Iceland, Spain, or Portugal. Start saving now for a flight to Valencia and you can have another chance. Got plans? No worries, in August of 2027 Spain gets ANOTHER total solar eclipse, along with Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and more. The year after that is Australia’s turn. Don’t have a passport or disposable income? Well, sorry, you ARE going to have to live another 20 years for your next chance at this once in a lifetime opportunity. But I promise there will be many other once in a lifetime astronomical opportunities for you to enjoy in the years to come. I only listed the next few total solar eclipses, but annular eclipses are super cool, too, and South America is getting basically one per year for the next few years. There are also super moons, lunar eclipses, comets, and meteor showers.

In fact, I’d like to share a personal story of me screwing up a rare astronomical event: a few years ago I decided to start visiting National Parks, and in 2022 I booked a campsite at Pinnacles during the Perseids, one of the greatest meteor showers you can see. Pinnacles is a dark sky location, meaning it’s one of the best places in the world to be during a meteor shower because there’s no chance that light pollution will block the view. To make the event even better, the forecast was totally clear. Not a cloud in the sky. I was so excited, and so Indy and I set up our camp chairs late at night and waited to be wowed.

But I quickly realized that something was terribly wrong: someone, somewhere had turned on a light. And as the hour got later, the light got brighter and brighter, until it was an actual spotlight shining over the top of the park’s trees. I was furious and got up to go looking for what idiot was shining a spot light in a Dark Sky location. I didn’t have to look far: the culprit was the brightest fucking SUPER MOON I had ever seen in my life. By the time it got above the trees, it was basically daylight. I could have read a book. When I begrudgingly got back into my tent I had to put on a sleep mask to block it out.

Lesson learned: now when I plan camping trips around meteor showers, I double check what the moon is getting up to that day.

Anyway, I am hoping for everyone in the path of totality to enjoy crystal clear skies on Monday. And if things don’t go as planned, remember that things will be okay. It’s not the end of the world. I mean literally, it’s not the end of the world.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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