Here's what you need to know to keep everyone's eyes safe when you take a look at the solar eclipse next week.
Surf Facebook and you are sure to see friends putting out desperate calls for solar eclipse viewing glasses. Because no, you can't wear sunglasses to safely view the eclipse on Monday. And unfortunately, many vendors are already sold out of the special glasses you do need to see this rare celestial event.
That's true even if you live in the path of totality, which means the moon will fully obscure the view of the sun. According to NASA's Total Eclipse safety page, "Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality."
Basically, that means IF you are within the path of totality, you could "remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face"—and "then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases."
But keep in mind: "We're talking about maybe a two-minute window, and there's no certainty when it's exactly 100 percent in line," says Dr. Vicki Luehmann, an optometrist at Valley Eye Clinic in Jordan, Minnesota. "I would never endorse removing the eclipse glasses to risk it. Even if it's 98 percent in line there's potential for damage."
And, according to NASA, "outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly."
According to the Washington Post, without special viewing glasses, it will also be impossible to fully see the eclipse, because of the sun's rays. Check out this map to see exactly where the path of totality will be on August 21.
The Post reports that NASA is giving out free eclipse viewing glasses at its events nationwide (here's a map so you can see if there's one near you) and you may be able to find them at Warby Parker stores. Believe it or not, 7-Eleven stores are selling viewing glasses, as are many hardware stores. You can also check Walmart and other retailers like Best Buy and Toys "R" Us.
But don't get your hopes high. Many stores are sold out. Like way out. And if you are lucky enough to score some glasses, be absolutely sure they are approved by the American Astronomical Society. Here is a list of approved vendors. Keep in mind that while some viewing glasses may claim to be safe, they aren't, even if they say they are approved by the AAS. There have already been reports of fake glasses being sold online. That's why it's crucial to check the site to make sure.
We also reached out to Dr. Lucy Chen, pediatric ophthalmologist at Advocare Pediatric Eye Physicians and staff physician at Morristown Medical Center to get safe-viewing tips for you and your family. Here's what she recommends:
- Remember that eye wear protection is crucial while viewing the solar eclipse directly. Make sure filtered eye wear is ISO-certified. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Astrological Society recommend specific filters that are ISO certified. If there are scratches on lenses, do not use. Do not use unfiltered binoculars cameras or telescopes as the eye can still be damaged with such instruments. Make sure protective eye wear is put on before looking at the sun and do not remove until you are not looking at the eclipse.
- Be aware that kids and younger people are most at risk of retinal damage. Their lenses tend to be the clearest and cannot disperse the harmful rays.
- Keep in mind that the longer the eye views a partial eclipse, the greater the chance of retinal burns. The solar eclipse can cause burns to the many layers of eye tissues including the cornea, lens, and retina, although it's the damage to the retina that is the most visually consequential. The retina is the delicate layer of nerve tissue that captures light and images and transmits images to the brain.
Chen adds, "Damage from viewing the solar eclipse is caused by infrared and UV radiation and excessive blue light. There is no risk to the eye when the eclipse is complete but any visible crescent of the sun behind the moon can cause solar damage to the eye that can result in permanent loss of vision, even blindness."
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The bottom line is, make absolutely sure you and you family members have safe, real, eclipse glasses if you're planning to watch the event. And if you can't get your hands on safe viewing glasses, don't fret (and don't take chances!): You can watch the event everyone is talking about on live streaming video via NASA's website. And here are more tips to make your viewing party out of this world!