The moon slowly covers the midday sun until it’s completely obscured, and then the sky turns a deep twilight — a color not seen at any other time. The sight has been enough to stop wars and inspire legends.
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Today, we are still spellbound by strange happenings in the sky.
The next solar eclipse happens again on August 21. It will be an amazing sight, but don’t let it be memorable for the worst possible reason, such as serious eye damage.
Take steps to protect your eyes, says ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD. He says you can permanently damage your retina by looking directly at a solar eclipse.
“This is the most sensitive part of your eye. The retina sends signals to your brain and gives you signals of what you’re seeing. You don’t want to risk any injury,” he says.
How a solar eclipse can trick our eyes
Usually, we are protected because of two things: 1. our instinct to look away 2. the ways our eyes respond to bright light.
On a typical day, sunlight will make your pupils constrict, allowing less light to enter your eye and preventing too much light exposure. It’s also uncomfortable; you squint, your eyes tear, and you break your gaze.
During a solar eclipse, watching without protection can give you a thermal burn to your retina, even if you aren’t experiencing any discomfort while this damage is occurring.
Dr. Singh says the most dangerous time to look is during the partial eclipse, when sunlight is still visible.
Tips to watch a solar eclipse safely
Dr. Singh offers suggestions for watching it safely. Of course, the safest way is to watch on TV. If you opt to buy protective glasses to view it, you need special-purpose solar filters. These are used in eclipse glasses or in hand-held solar viewers.
“You can certainly watch a solar eclipse through a pair of approved goggles or glasses. There are about four or five different makers out there. Those will allow you to look at the eclipse through very, very dark UV- blocked sunglasses,” Dr. Singh says.
These special glasses only let in a very tiny fraction of light. Regular sunglasses are not safe for viewing an eclipse. In fact, regular sunglasses can cause the pupils to dilate, which allows more light into the eye and could potentially cause significant damage, he says.
Here, find tips for safely watching a solar eclipse from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:
- Be sure your eclipse glasses are quality. They must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2.
- Check glasses for damage. Before using solar filter or eclipse glasses, take a close look at them. Don’t use them if you find any scratches or damage.
- Follow the directions. Carefully read any literature that comes with your solar filter or eclipse glasses, and be sure to use them correctly. Be especially careful to show children how to use them properly.
- Keep eyes protected the whole time. Put on the glasses before looking up at the sun and don’t remove them until you are looking down or away.
- Don’t look through a camera or other lens. Never look through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other similar devices, even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time. The sun’s rays coming through these devices will damage the solar filter and your eyes.
Wherever you are on August 21, enjoy the mystery of the solar eclipse. If do you choose to watch, first-hand, as an Ancient Chinese sky dragon devours the sun, be sure to do it safely.