A ring of fire will soon appear in the sky. And Mark Margolis will be helping people see it — safely.
Margolis’ company, Rainbow Symphony, makes what it calls “eclipse shades” — those paper sunglasses that allow you to view an eclipse without damaging your eyes.
Since it started production in 1989, the company has shipped the shades around the world to allow safe viewing of astronomical phenomena like the one that will sweep across the United States on Monday.
WATCH IT: Where and how to view the eclipse
Margolis, 67, said he’s provided tens of millions of eclipse shades to vendors such as Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but he’s all sold out.
He and his daughter are driving to Oregon to witness the event they started preparing for three years ago.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” said Margolis, who has also viewed eclipses in Indonesia, the Caribbean, France, Turkey, China and Australia. “I expect it to be spectacular.”
Chicagoans are scrambling to find the glasses they need to protect their eyes from damaging infrared and ultraviolet rays if they want to look at the eclpse. Normal sunglasses will not cut it; the rays “can literally cook your eyes,” said Geza Gyuk, an Adler Planetarium astronomer.
Around 500 million people will be able to observe the solar eclipse in some form, according to NASA. That means glasses are in high demand, and retailers including Walmart, REI and Best Buy have been selling out. Several 7-Elevens in the Loop sold out weeks ago.
Rainbow Symphony’s sales boomed eight months ago.
“It was almost uncontrollable at that point,” said Sophie Margolis, Mark’s daughter and the company’s business manager. “At one point we had 7,000 orders to fulfill.”
To complicate the situation, knockoffs have been filling up the market.
On Sunday, Amazon removed several listings, contacted customers and issued refunds for glasses that “may not comply with industry standards,” CNN Money reported. Oak Brook Library had ordered glasses from one of these recalled vendors, which have remained unnamed by Amazon. The library posted a statement on its website urging customers to contact them if they have any questions.
The American Astronomical Society recommends buying from a list of reputable brands, vendors and retail chains on its website.
As of Wednesday, the Adler Planetarium’s gift shop still had glasses available at $4.99 — or free with a paid admission.
Juan Pellegrini drove in from Oak Forest to buy a pair because “it’s the only place where you can get the real ones.”
Pellegrini said he saw his first eclipse in Argentina, and was hooked. He will take his 7-year-old grandson to watch the total eclipse in Carbondale — considered one of the country’s prime viewing spots.
Adler also will pass out a limited number of free glasses on Thursday in Daley Plaza, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; on Thursday in south Grant Park from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.; and on Friday at Lagunitas Brewing Company, from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Chicago Public Library is handing out glasses at select branches.
Though the city won’t experience the total eclipse — which will plunge parts of Southern Illinois into complete darkness, causing temperatures to drop and animals to act up — the partial eclipse will still be quite a spectacle, Gyuk said.
This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States in 38 years, according to NASA. Gyuk will join a team of Adler Astronomers in Perryville, Illinois, launching two balloons to take photos of the eclipse and stream video back to the planetarium.
“It can enrich your life,” Gyuk said. “You’ll have more of a connection with the world. You will be able to envision the whole solar system, the earth moving slowly between the moon and the sun.”
Sophie Margolis is glad the eclipse will help bring people together in a “positive moment,” in light of current events.
“I think if anything, it makes it a little bit sweeter that we have been doing it for so long,” she said. “It’s really something special, that I get to experience a moment [with my dad], looking around and seeing everyone’s face in awe.”