While lunar eclipses are fairly common, a solar eclipse is much more rare since the sun isn’t constantly visible.
Fortunately, those living in the western half of the United States were be able to witness a solar eclipse on May 20th, 2012.
Star gazers living in California had the best view of the eclipse, but those as far east as Texas were also able to witness a partial eclipse just before sundown.
While tempting, looking directly at the sun can be extremely damaging to the eyes due to harmful UV rays. These rays kill skin cells, which is why being out in the sun too long can cause a nasty sunburn. The eyes are much more sensitives than the skin though, so while a sunburn heals overtime, a burn to the eye can do permanent damage. If the eyes look into the sun for a long enough period of time, the retina of the eye can completely die and cause blindness.
Fortunately, there are several safe ways for individuals to view the solar eclipse without harming their eyes. The easiest is to use a mirror to reflect the sun onto a nearby sidewalk or other flat surface. The reflection of the eclipse can then be watched without doing any damage to the retinas.
For those who are technologically advanced, a webcam or camera can be pointed at the sun and viewed on a computer through real time. This is also a great way for those who live in the eastern half of the US to view the eclipse even after it’s dark.