Quite Literally “Blinded by the Light”

Remember growing up when you would always be told to never look directly at the sun without wearing sunglasses? Well, I hope you listened to that advice. There are endless studies proving that eye exposure to direct sunlight can lead to solar retinopathy and serious eye damage. When you expose your eyes to direct sunlight, it burns holes in light-sensitive photoreceptor cells that can cause irreversible damage and even blindness. Think burning leaves using a magnifying glass (or ants if you were that kid growing up…) but only multiple times more intense. With the solar eclipse coming up in about a month, it’s crucial to remember that if you’re planning to watch one of nature’s most incredible phenomena, you must remember to protect your eyes when doing so, at least for the majority of the eclipse. And no – your everyday sunglasses will not suffice in this scenario.

According to NASA and other optometry and ophthalmology organizations, it is okay to look directly at the solar eclipse with the naked eye only when the sun is fully covered by the moon, the moment of a total solar eclipse. For the upcoming eclipse on August 21st, NASA claims that this full coverage will last 2 minutes and 40 seconds. During those moments, the day will turn to night and the sun’s outer atmosphere will be visible with the naked eye. Definitely, something you won’t want to miss. The duration of the partial eclipse is expected to last from 2 to 3 hours and will be visible from all parts of the U.S. The total eclipse, however, will only be visible to those on what’s called the “path of totality”, extending from Oregon to South Carolina. But in order to watch the entire eclipse, you must first know how to view it safely.

3 Options to Safely View the Solar Eclipse

Option 1: Do not – I repeat – do NOT think you can wear your everyday sunglasses to watch this. Instead, wear solar eclipse glasses or use handheld eclipse viewers to ensure full protection. Yes, you’ll look like you just walked out of a 3D movie, but you’re not trying to make a fashion statement here.

Option 2: If you don’t get around to purchasing a pair of eclipse glasses/viewers, consider using what’s called a pinhole projection with your hands. With your back to the sun, spread your fingers apart, and create a crossing pattern with both hands. The small spaces between your fingers will create a projection of images on the ground. During the partial eclipse, you’ll be able to see the sun’s crescent shapes. But again, make sure your back is to the sun. Let me just reemphasize that, this does NOT mean interlocking your fingers and holding them up to look directly at the sun. Let’s try to follow these directions. You’ll thank us later.

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Option 3: Use a solar eclipse lens or filter over your camera, binoculars, or telescope. Looking directly through one of these devices without a solar lens/filter will result in eye damage. In fact, they actually even further magnify the light rays on the retina and can lead to worse damage than just looking at the eclipse with your naked eye. Let’s try to avoid that.

How to view the solar eclipse and what not to do - Smart Vision Labs

Whichever option you choose, make sure to follow this advice to protect your eyes. In the U.S., this is the first solar eclipse since 1257 that has only touched American soil. But if you’re looking to travel, total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months around the world. So be sure to follow these safety tips to make sure that your eyes will be healthy and fully prepared to watch the next one.

Issy Bonebrake is a born-again New Yorker living down in the Village. She considers herself to be a self-proclaimed, cautiously optimistic futurist. As a classic rock aficionado, she enjoys binge watching rockumentaries from the coziness of her less than 500 square footage apartment. Issy is remarkably unenthused by space phenomena.

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