Experts Give Safety Tips on Proper Way to View Aug. 21 Solar Eclipse


Credit: National Center for Atmospheric Research High Altitude Observatory/NSF

NEW YORK—On Aug. 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will be coming to North America for the first time since 1979 and for the first time since 1918, the eclipse will be crossing the country from coast to coast.

According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), a total solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks the sun’s bright face—the photosphere—briefly revealing the star’s outer atmosphere, the corona. As part of this eclipse, some parts of the U.S. will experience a brief total eclipse, when the moon completely blocks the sun’s face, for up to two minutes and 40 seconds, while the whole continent will experience a partial eclipse lasting two to three hours.

With all the excitement surrounding this event, experts are educating the public on appropriate ways to view the eclipse. Prevent Blindness reports that exposing your eyes without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause “eclipse blindness” or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. This exposure to the light, the organization stated, can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina that transmit what you see to the brain.

For their part, the American Optometric Association (AOA) is reminding people of the importance of appropriate eclipse glasses. The organization warns against the use of regular sunglasses, but encourages the public to purchase specially made eclipse glasses or other ISO-certified filters for the viewing.

With the potential damage the solar eclipse can cause to eyes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued the following safety tips one should take:

• Stand still and cover the eyes with eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After glancing at the sun, turn away and remove the filter—do not remove it while looking at the sun.
• Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other optical device. Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer—the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
• If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it gets quite dark.

For those who want to purchase eclipse safe glasses, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) listed four manufacturers who have certified that their eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers meet the standards for eye protection: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.

Watch an introduction to the solar eclipse from the AAS here.