Free solar eclipse glasses are being given away by the millions — here's where to grab a pair

When was the last time you stepped into a library? If you plan to gaze up at the solar eclipse on August 21, now may be a good time to visit your local branch.

Looking at the solar eclipse can be risky. Even if you're in the path of totality, where the moon fully blocks the sun, the star will be visible as a partial eclipse during nearly 99% of the event. This also means the sun's damaging rays of ultraviolet light (the same kind that cause sunburn) will be shining — and too much exposure can temporarily or even permanently damage your eyesight, even if you're wearing regular sunglasses.

While there are many simple, cost-effective ways to protect your peepers, nothing is quite as convenient or nerd-chic as a pair of cheap, paper-framed solar eclipse sunglasses.

Click through images of solar eclipses:

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Solar eclipses
This combo shows different phases of the solar eclipse seen from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, an archipeligo administered by Norway, on March 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NTB SCANPIX / HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN +++ NORWAY OUT (Photo credit should read Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)
A total solar eclipse can be seen in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 20, 2015. A partial eclipse of varying degrees is visible, depending on weather conditions, across most of Europe, northern Africa, northwest Asia and the Middle East, before finishing its show close to the North Pole. AFP PHOTO / NTB SCANPIX / HAAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN +++ NORWAY OUT (Photo credit should read Haakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)
SOMERSET, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A view of a partial solar eclipse in progress on March 20, 2015 in Somerset, England. Many parts of Europe bore witness as the largest solar eclipse since 1999 swept over the continent during the early hours of the morning. Only the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic and Svalbard in the Arctic saw a total solar eclipse during this event. PHOTOGRAPH BY iVistaphotography / Barcroft UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com
UNSPECIFIED, UNSPECIFIED - MARCH 20: A rare partial solar eclipse is seen over Northamptonshire on March 20, 2015 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
On 22 July 2009 the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century was photographed from the Pacific Ocean for over 6.5 minutes. (Photo credit: Getty)
HÃFN, ICELAND - MARCH 20: The moon is moving out to the left during the solar eclipse on march 20, 2015 in Höfn, South Iceland. PHOTOGRAPH BY Pall Jokull / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Pall Jokull / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HÃFN, ICELAND - MARCH 20: A composite image of the first half of the solar eclipse where sun is visible just over the horizon on march 20, 2015 in Höfn, South Iceland. PHOTOGRAPH BY Pall Jokull / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Pall Jokull / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A partial solar eclipse visible over a statue located at the rooftop of Austrian Art History Museum in Vienna on March 20, 2015. PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A total solar eclipse can be seen in Svalbard, Longyearbyen, Norway, on March 20, 2015. A partial eclipse of varying degrees is visible, depending on weather conditions, across most of Europe, northern Africa, northwest Asia and the Middle East, before finishing its show close to the North Pole. AFP PHOTO / NTB SCANPIX / JON OLAV NESVOLD +++ NORWAY OUT (Photo credit should read JON OLAV NESVOLD/AFP/Getty Images)
A combo of three pictures shows the progression of a partial solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 over Strasbourg, eastern France. A partial eclipse of varying degrees is visible, depending on weather conditions, across most of Europe, northern Africa, northwest Asia and the Middle East, before finishing its show close to the North Pole. AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - MARCH 20: The sun is pictured during a partial solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 in Muncih, Germany. Over Central Europe the moon was scheduled to cover approximately 75% of the sun for a short period starting at approximately 9:30am. The next solar eclipse will not occur until 2021. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
ABERDEEN TO BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A partial solar eclipse is observed during a flight between Aberdeen to Birmingham on March 20, 2015. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A composite picture of the eclipse taken through a candle-smoke glass on March 20, 2015 in Gloucestershire, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Jules Annan / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Jules Annan / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
ICELAND - MARCH 20: A view of the partial solar eclipse as seen on March 20, 2015 in Iceland. PHOTOGRAPH BY Bragi Kort / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Bragi Kort / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
SEVEROMORSK, RUSSIA - MARCH 20: A partial solar eclipse is visible through Russian solders on Russian North on March 20, 2015 in Severomorsk-3, Russia. (Photo Anatoly Zhdanov/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)
A partial solar eclipse of the sun is visible over Glasgow, Scotland on March 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ANDY BUCHANAN (Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)
A combination of five pictures shows the motion of the moon as it passes the face of the sun during a partial solar eclipse seen through a break in the cloud cover over Scarborough, Northern England on March 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
AKUREYRI, ICELAND - MARCH 20: The 2015 Solar Eclipse viewed at Akureyri on March 20 2015 in Iceland. PHOTOGRAPH BY Einar Gudmann / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Einar Gudmann / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A picture taken on March 20, 2015 shows a partial solar eclipse of the sun visible over the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A combo of 9 pictures taken on March 20, 2015 in Gaiberg near Heidelberg, southwestern Germany, shows a partial solar eclipse from the beginning (top, L) to the end (bottom, R). A partial eclipse of varying degrees is visible, depending on weather conditions, across most of Europe, northern Africa, northwest Asia and the Middle East, before finishing its show close to the North Pole. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLAND (Photo credit should read DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)
COTSWOLDS, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A rare partial solar eclipse is seen at 09.46 over Burford on March 20, 2015 in the Cotswolds, United Kingdom. The solar eclipse, which occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, started at 08:24 GMT and continues until 10:41 GMT, with the maximum obscuration of the Sun happening at 09:31 GMT. The last significant solar eclipse visible from the UK was on 11 August, 1999. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
This combo of different phases of the solar eclipse seen from Longyearbyen, Svalbard, an archipeligo administered by Norway, on March 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NTB SCANPIX / Jon Olav Nesvold +++ NORWAY OUT (Photo credit should read JON OLAV NESVOLD/AFP/Getty Images)
A man uses a protective slide to watch as the moon passes infront of the Earth's star marking a total eclipse, the only one this year, in Vigo, northwestern Spain on March 20, 2015. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from the North Pole, is along with the Faroe Islands the only place the total eclipse will be visible, assuring three minutes of total darkness when the moon totally blocks the sun. AFP PHOTO/ MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
The moon passes infront of the Earth's star marking the begining of a total eclipse, the only one this year, in Vigo, northwestern Spain on March 20, 2015. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from the North Pole, is along with the Faroe Islands the only place the total eclipse will be visible, assuring three minutes of total darkness when the moon totally blocks the sun. AFP PHOTO/ MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
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However, eclipse glasses and viewers are selling out across the US, and there are also reports of unscrupulous sellers flooding the market with ineffective fakes to make a quick buck.

Which is where your library might come to the rescue.

"With support from NASA, Google, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Space Science Institute's STAR_Net initiative has distributed more than 2 million ISO-compliant safe solar eclipse glasses to more than 6,900 libraries all across the U.S.," according to American Astronomical Society's website about the 2017 total solar eclipse.

The AAS has created an interactive Google Map that shows where the nearest participating library is to you.

However, STAR_Net notes on this page that "most libraries have already given away their allotment of glasses" and the ones that remain "are intended for their eclipse programming events ONLY" — which means you may need to participate in a day-of event to snag a pair. (Ask a librarian for details.)

If your library is a bust, peruse this map of NASA viewing event locations. In these locations, the space agency is distributing an additional 1.5 million pairs of eclipse glasses. While many viewing events are in the path of totality, there will be some near other major cities, too.

Solar eclipse glasses are not a must-have. You can make a pinhole camera, which is a simple, safe, and inexpensive alternative to looking directly at the sun.

 

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