Eye Safety During Total Solar EclipseLast updated: Aug 18, 2017
On August 21 at 1:22 pm ET, a total solar eclipse will stretch across the entire country. Total solar eclipses occur once every 12 to 18 months, but this one (referred to as the Great American Eclipse) will be particularly rare, as its path of totality will cross the United States, exclusively for the first time since 1918. Portions of 14 states will experience darkness and all other states will experience a partial solar eclipse. In New Jersey, the moon will block approximately 75 percent of the sun.
This will be an astronomical event you will not want to miss, but eye safety is important to remember! Looking directly at the sun can cause serious eye damage. To get the full scoop on eye safety during a solar eclipse, we talked with the newest member of our Ophthalmology team, Dr. Vinnie P. Shah.
Q: What are the eye risks associated with viewing a solar eclipse?
Watching a solar eclipse and looking directly at the sun can cause serious, permanent damage to the eye. In particular, the retina can be damaged and a condition called solar retinopathy can result. This happens when the sun’s light is focused on the retina, burning holes in light sensitive photoreceptor cells which can cause blindness.
Q: What should we know in order to protect our eyes during a solar eclipse?
Never view a solar eclipse through an unfiltered camera, telescope, or binoculars. Everyday sunglasses will not protect your eyes during a solar eclipse. Even very dark glasses or homemade filters will not protect your eyes properly from direct sun viewing and the intense solar rays will cause damage.
Solar filters are used in eclipse glasses or hand held solar viewers and using them is the only safe way to look directly at the sun. They must meet a very specific worldwide standard: ISO 12312-2. The American Astronomical Society website has a list of companies whose products are compatible with ISO standards.
Q: What is the best way to safely view a solar eclipse?
In order to safely watch a solar eclipse, carefully look at the solar viewer/eclipse glasses. If you see any scratches, do not use them. Always read the directions that accompany the filter. Young children should not be trusted to view the eclipse. Older children and young adults should be properly taught how to use the filter (eclipse glasses or solar viewer) correctly and practice several times before the eclipse.
Before directly looking at the sun, cover your eyes with solar viewer/eclipse glasses and stand still. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove the filter. DO NOT remove the filter while looking at the sun. Be sure to turn away first.
The only time you can look at the sun without solar viewer/eclipse glasses is during a total eclipse. There is a brief phase during a total solar eclipse known as totality, that lasts about two minutes. When the moon completely covers the sun and it suddenly gets dark, you can remove your solar filter. As soon as the bright sun begins to appear, even slightly, immediately use your solar viewer/eclipse glasses to watch the remaining partial phase of the eclipse.
Q: What should I do if I experience eye symptoms or discomfort?
If you experience any visual changes such as loss of vision or distorted vision, make an appointment to see your ophthalmologist.