My staff and I were sharing stories of what they had heard people saying about viewing the total eclipse next week. Some were saying they would wear their regular glasses since they had UV protection on them. Others were saying they would use their phones to view it. NO NO NO!!!!

So this is our attempt to give you a brief summary on the solar eclipse and your eyes!

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse is when the moon orbits earth, it aligns perfectly between the sun and earth, blocking most of the sun (partial eclipse) or all of the sun (total eclipse) for a brief period. The last total solar eclipse of this magnitude was in 1918.

Next week, on August 21, 2017 we may get to experience it again, weather permitting.  It should last around 2 minutes over the United States.  To see more on the predictions and time at various locations, see  https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-maps

What can happen if you look at it without proper eye protection?

Just like you can harm your eyes and retina from UV on a regular sunny day while looking at the sun, you can harm them while looking at the eclipse. UV is still getting to your eyes, even if you don’t ‘see’ it. The moon may block part of the ‘light’ but you are still exposing your eyes to harmful UV. The worse-case, you will have a blind spot in your vision, and it could be permanent.

How do I know if I have solar retinopathy? 

As there are no pain-sensing nerves in the retina you will not feel any pain while the damage is being caused. Some hours after the event you may experience the following symptoms:

• eyes may become watery and sore
• difficulty in seeing shape and detail of objects
• discomfort with bright light
• a blind spot in your central vision
• things may appear to be unusually colored
• objects may be distorted in shape

Do the glasses really work?

Your regular prescription glasses, sunglasses, and safety glasses will NOT protect your eyes from this type of light. NASA recommends protective eyewear have International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 12312-2 certified. Here is a list of certified vendors https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters

I can just take a photo or video of it with my smart phone and that will protect my eyes.

Nope! You can still damage your eyes and vision as well as your device. If you don’t have the proper filters (which you have to buy) then you shouldn’t do this either.

Here are some safe ways to view the solar eclipse from Prevent Blindness.

The only time that you can safely view a solar eclipse without special equipment is during a total solar eclipse. This is when the moon completely covers the sun. It is never safe to look at a partial solar eclipse without proper safety equipment or techniques. During the very brief time the sun is in total solar eclipse it is safe to look at it, but do so with caution. Even during the total solar eclipse, the total eclipse may last only a short period of time, and if you are looking towards the sun as the moon moves away from blocking the sun, you might get a solar burn on your retina which can cause permanent damage to your eyes.  Talk with your eye care professional to determine the best viewing option for you. Below are a few common ways to safely watch a solar eclipse:

Pinhole projection: This is the safest and most inexpensive way to watch a solar eclipse. This helps you avoid looking directly at the eclipse by using a projected image. This do-it-yourself project includes making a pinhole in a cardboard paper with the sun on one side and a piece of paper three feet away without obstruction to project the image on the other side. Keep in mind not to look through the pinhole at the sun.

Welder’s glass: Number 14 welder’s glass provides effective protection and can be found at a local welder’s supply store. This glass will reduce the harmful rays that are emitted during the eclipse. Do not use if there are any scratches or damage to the glass.

Mylar filters: Aluminized mylar plastic sheets are available as eclipse vision glasses or can be cut and made into a viewing box. Do not use if there are any scratches or damage to the sheet.

Other ways: Other ways to safely watch a solar eclipse is on television or at the planetarium.

Nasa Interactive Maps

You can see the projections of the track the solar eclipse will take by viewing the interactive map her on the NASA site:
https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-maps

References:
All About Vision http://www.allaboutvision.com/resources/solar-eclipse.htm
Solar Eclipse map – Source: NASA – https://youtu.be/XX7AxZhPrqU
American Society of Retina Specialists- http://www.asrs.org/patients/retinal-diseases/special-safety-edition-2017-great-american-eclipse
Prevent Blindness https://www.preventblindness.org/solar-eclipse-and-your-eyes