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How to Safely Watch Solar Eclipses

Updated on August 9, 2017
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Having been in the eye care industry for two decades has highlighted the complexity and wonder of the human eye.

On August 21st North America will witness a solar eclipse. A total eclipse will be visible across the United States from West to East in a straight line starting from Oregon, going through Kentucky all the way to South Carolina. Barring any potential cloud cover, anyone in this path will be able to see the awe inspiring view of a total eclipse of the sun. A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible to all those who are outside of this path.

Generally speaking, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun and its shadow is cast down on earth. A total eclipse occurs when the moon completely covers the sun while a partial eclipse occurs when it partially covers it. To view a solar eclipse a person needs to be directly located in line with the moon and the sun. To safely view an eclipse it is important to note that observer needs to take certain precautions to safeguard his/her eye health from the harmful rays emitted by the sun during the eclipse. These may not be obvious to the observer but there nonetheless.

Exposing your unprotected eyes to the sun during a solar eclipse can cause solar retinopathy (retinal burns); also known as "eclipse blindness". This exposure can temporarily or permanently damage or destroy cells in the retina. The damage can take up to a few days to be fully expressed with symptoms including loss of central vision, altered color and blurry or distorted vision.

The only time that you can potentially risk looking directly at a solar eclipse is during the totality of it when the moon completely covers the sun. , However since it is difficult to estimate its duration or detect the moon’s breach of totality this can also be the most dangerous time. After all the moon only covers the sun for a short period of time and if you are still observing it as the moon moves away it could cause retinal burns and damage to your eyes. Take the following measures to safely and properly view the eclipse:

  • Welder's Glasses: To reduce harmful rays and safely watch the eclipse wear number 14 welder's glasses.

  • Pinhole Projection: Use this method to watch the solar eclipse safely and inexpensively. Make a pinhole on one side of cardboard paper to allow the sun light to shine through onto a piece of paper on the other side of the cardboard. This method allows you to watch the entire event unfold on the paper without risking any harm to your eyes.

  • Online or Television: The safest way to watch the solar eclipse is probably via television or online. Subscribe to be reminded of the event and come back to this site on the day of the solar eclipse to watch it live.

An eclipse is one of those events that a person should experience at least once in their lifetime. Like many experiences in life it is important to prepare for the event and make sure that the proper precautions are taken to avert damage to the retina and ultimately one’s overall vision health. By taking the steps above one will be able to observe this event while remaining confident their eye health is protected.

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