Thousands of students in South America will be able to witness Tuesday’s total solar eclipse due to a campaign by the nonprofit Astronomers Without Borders.
In 2017, after the last eclipse visible in North America took place, the organization started collecting used solar eclipse glasses to provide to South American and Asian students in countries where the next eclipses would be seen.
The campaign yielded over 5 million pairs of glasses, 40,000 of which will be sent to schools, universities, and planetariums in Chile, Argentina, and Peru, where the upcoming eclipse will be fully or partially visible. The rest will be donated to students in Asia, where the annular solar eclipse can be seen later this year.
Though the group has organized similar crowdfunded initiatives in the past, it said this is the largest effort it has ever seen.
"People were really into it," Astronomers Without Borders President Mike Simmons told NPR. "They loved the idea of being able to share the experience they had with kids in other countries where they wouldn't be able to get the eclipse glasses."
Solar eclipse glasses are essential for watching the astronomical event — looking directly into the sun can cause permanent damage to the eye’s retina. However, they can be hard to access unless purchased well in advance, and there are cases of fake eclipse glasses being sold, endangering those who use them.
After Astronomers Without Borders announced its campaign, the movement grew, Simmons said. More and more people reached out to the organization to find out how they could get involved.
"We thought that people would be sending them in in small batches. But as it turns out, we were contacted by people all over the country who said, 'We'd like to collect glasses for you. How do we become a collection center,” Simmons said.
At the height of the effort, there were more than 1,000 collection sites nationwide.
Remember that awesome #eclipse glasses recycling campaign back during 2017 #GreatAmericanEclipse?Astronomers w/o Borders is now giving a #secondchance to 40,000 solar glasses & sending them to #SouthAmerica— Astro w/o Borders (@awb_org) June 28, 2019
for July 2 #solareclipse
"We had [collection points in] every kind of business you could think of. We had departments in universities and just individuals. We had libraries. It just ran the gamut through society,” he added.
The collected glasses were examined by volunteers to make sure they were ISO-certified and safe for reuse, with no scratches or holes in the protective lenses.
Simmons said that the glasses provide people the opportunity to witness science before their eyes — which is important – but are also a visual motivation for students to learn about the sciences. With many developing countries lacking educational resources, the eclipse glasses provide an opportunity for students and teachers to see science in action and inspire youth to pursue a career in the field, he told Gizmodo in 2017.
"For students and teachers to bring STEM intro the classroom, it really is a great inspiration,” he said recently. “It's a gateway science."