Solar Eclipse Eye Safety

On Aug. 21, the moon will move between the Earth and the sun and, for the first time in nearly a century, residents in all 50 states will be treated to a solar eclipse. Some colleges are shutting down for the day to allow students to watch this rare event.

Communities are planning viewing parties, libraries are hosting events for children, and the national parks are reminding Americans they can provide an ideal setting to view the eclipse.

The National Safety Council is recommending the following safety tips as you prepare to watch the solar eclipse.

Do not view the eclipse directly with a naked eye: Since the eclipse will be such a widespread event, many will be tempted to watch, if only just for a few minutes. But you cannot do so without proper eye protection. Looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse puts you at risk of temporarily or permanently damaging your vision, primarily due to retinal burns.

Younger people are most vulnerable to these injuries, making it imperative for parents to supervise children during the eclipse and be sure they’re viewing it properly. Since your eyes wouldn’t feel pain from these burns, you might not realize the damage has been done until it is too late.

According to NASA, the safest way to get the best view of the eclipse is with a pair of “eclipse glasses,” which use solar filters in the lenses to protect your vision. Similar devices, called eclipse viewers, provide the same effect, so long as they are properly certified. Look for the ‘ISO 12312-2’ certification and inspect the filters for damage before using them to be sure they are safe. If you are unable to obtain eclipse glasses or a viewer, there are many safe ways to ‘project’ or indirectly view the eclipse.

Pinhole projectors are the traditional method, but you can also safely project the eclipse through a shady tree’s leaves or your interlaced fingers. In these cases, be sure you are not looking at the eclipse. Instead, look away from it, allowing it to project through the leaves or your fingers down onto a white surface. The image on the white surface will still give you a great view.

You should never look at an eclipse with the naked eye, but there are plenty of other unsafe methods to avoid, as well. Cameras, telescopes and similar devices, even when paired with a solar filter, are unsafe to use during an eclipse. Similarly, sunglasses, safety glasses and other items like developed film cannot properly protect your vision.