Hot Topic: Solar Eclipse 2017

Tristan Brown, OD

By now, most of us have seen the news reports and social media posts regarding the upcoming solar eclipse and are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to experience this impressive event with our own eyes! However, before you turn your attention skyward, it is important that you keep in mind the potential for vision loss if you do so without the proper eye protection!

When we look at an object, most of the light rays that enter our eye are focused at a single point at the back of the eye. This allows us to have crisp vision for tasks, such as reading, watching television, hunting, etc. However, in the case of the sun, its light rays are so intense that they have the potential to burn the retina at the point at which the light rays are focused. This happens in much the same way that sunlight will start leaves or paper on fire when focused through a magnifying glass.

In the case of a solar eclipse, although much of the sun is blocked by the moon, the light from the area of uncovered sun is still bright enough to cause burns on the back of the eye. Unlike a burn on your skin, the damage caused at the back of the eye is painless; instead, hours to days after the retinal tissue is burned, the individual will notice blurred vision or may even notice a small “blind spot” in their central vision.

Therefore, if you want to view the eclipse firsthand, it is important that you do so ONLY if you have the proper eye protection!  Here is a list of do’s and don’ts regarding the proper ways to experience the eclipse:

  • The safest way to view the eclipse is with a simple pinhole camera such as the one found on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory web site. Instead of viewing the eclipse directly, an image is projected onto a sheet of paper or other white material.
  • It is NOT safe to view the eclipse using ordinary sunglasses (no matter how dark they are), 3D glasses, most welding shields or homemade filters. Special “eclipse glasses” can be purchased to view the eclipse directly, but be sure that they are ISO 12312-2 certified and are not damaged in any way.
  • Unless your welding shield is shade 14 or darker (which most are not), it will not protect your eyes from the sun’s intense rays; so don’t even think about using it to view the eclipse!
  • It is not safe to view the eclipse through the viewfinder of a camera, telescope or binoculars. Even though the light passes through the device before it reaches your eye, the sun’s intense rays can still cause vision loss.
  • Remember that NASA, as well as many news agencies, will be livestreaming and posting pictures of the eclipse; this will allow you to experience the excitement of the eclipse without ever looking directly at the sun and risking potential vision loss!

So however and wherever you choose to experience the eclipse, have fun and remember to do so with the proper eye protection!

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