To get a safe view of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, you’ll need to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. To do this, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) advocates the use of eclipse glasses for people of all ages.
Eclipse glasses are specifically designed to block the sun’s potentially harmful light and radiation, but be sure to look for glasses that indicate they are compliant with “ISO 12312-2” or “ISO 12312-2:2015” requirements. Do not trust any glasses that do not specifically state they are compliant to protect your eyes.
Even a partial glimpse of the sun can damage your eyes, perhaps permanently. Therefore, it is important to wear your glasses as instructed whenever looking at the sun. If worn properly, the glasses make observing the eclipse safe for viewers of all ages.
Why is viewing a solar eclipse dangerous?
Viewing the solar eclipse directly without the aid of ISO-certified solar shields may cause an eye condition called solar retinopathy. This happens when “the intense rays of light from the sun interact with the inner layers of the retina called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) causing areas of damage. This can result in significant blurred central vision, missing spots in vision or wavy vision in the affected eyes,” explains Dr. Ming Wang, MD, Ph.D., a world renowned ophthalmologist based in Nashville, Tennessee.
It can take 3-6 months to recover normal vision. Though there is a risk of mild to severe permanent damage and vision loss, depending on the severity of the condition and length of solar exposure, he adds.
How to safely view the solar eclipse
During the eclipse, it is only safe to look at the sun for a short period using solar filters. And, the only time it is safe to view the sun without the filters is during the few minutes of total eclipse (in cities along this path), explains Dr. Wang.
To view the eclipse safely, follow these steps to properly put on and take off your solar filters:
- Before looking at the sun, cover your eyes with your solar filters. If you have small children, put their glasses on first and then put yours on. Make sure everyone puts on their glasses while looking away from the sun.
- When everyone has their filters on, turn to the sun, together.
- When the moon completely covers the sun, and it suddenly goes dark, it is safe to remove your filters, if you choose.
- You must immediately put the solar filters back on before any light from the sun begins to appear again. If your kids remove their glasses during the total eclipse, make sure they put them back on before any rays appear.
- To remove your glasses once you’re finished viewing the eclipse, look away from the sun. Be sure that everyone in your family looks away from the sun to take their solar glasses off.
Tips for protecting kid’s eye safety during the eclipse
You should also supervise children’s use of eclipse glasses at all times. “With children, the biggest thing to watch out for is making sure the glasses stay on,” explains Matthew Whitehouse, Ph.D., Observatory Manager at the South Carolina State Museum. Since most glasses are “one-size-fits-all” sizing, they can be too wide for a child’s face. To help prevent the glasses from slipping off, attach tape or string to the earpieces and tighten for a more secure fit.
Dr. Wang also recommends walking kids through the steps of safely viewing the eclipse beforehand. This will give you the opportunity to practice with them as well as teach them about the consequences of not using the protective eyewear as instructed.
Does it matter if you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses?
You can wear glasses or contact lenses along with the appropriate ISO 12312-2-certified solar shields. Glasses or contact lenses alone, however, do not provide any protection from solar retinopathy. In addition, even very dark sunglasses are not sufficient to provide protection from damaging rays of the sun. You must always wear the appropriate solar shields to protect your eyes.
Where to find official eclipse glasses
Demand has been high for eclipse glasses and retailers are selling through their inventory quickly.Look for ISO 12312-2 or ISO 12312-2:2015 compliant glasses. But, be aware that with the high demand, non-compliant fakes have entered the market.
The AAS has a full list of reputable brands and vendors that you can compare against before buying eclipse glasses for your family. If you buy your eclipse glasses online, be sure to buy glasses from ISO-certified brands and vendors like American Paper Optics, LLC, among others identified by the AAS.
In addition, select public libraries, health centers, planetariums and museums will be giving away glasses for free, but only while supplies last. Check locally to see if these will be available in your area.
Watch out for counterfeit eclipse glasses
Unfortunately, some see the eclipse as an opportunity to make a quick dollar at the possible expense of someone else’s eyesight. Counterfeit glasses, many of which look authentic and even bear the ISO logo and compliance, are growing in number as the eclipse approaches.
If you aren’t sure your glasses came from a reputable vendor, test them before relying on them to protect your eyes during the eclipse. The AAS says that when wearing eclipse glasses, you shouldn’t be able to see anything other than the sun. If you can discern regular light fixtures or other sources of light, the glasses are not equipped to adequately shield your eyes from the sun.
Use this NASA-approved technique if you can’t get glasses
You may still be able to experience the eclipse if you don’t have eclipse glasses. “Pinhole projectors” or “pinhole cameras” allow you to indirectly watch the eclipse unfold. They’re cheap and easy to make. Though, it’s very important to use pinhole cameras as instructed to protect your vision throughout the eclipse. NASA has easy-to-follow instructions with images on how to make and safely use a pinhole camera: available here.
Wherever you view the eclipse, it will be an event to remember – just remember to stay safe!
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