Oct 14, 2023 - Science

Solar eclipse reminder: Don't stare straight at the Sun

Child holding eclipse glasses over eyes has a look of awe with mouth wide open

Eclipse glasses can protect against serious eye injury during the celestial events. Photo: Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Taking a glimpse at Saturday's solar eclipse — even a quick one — can cause damage if you don't wear the right protective eyewear.

Why it matters: NASA warns that "there is no time when it is safe to look directly at the Sun" without protection such as eclipse glasses and special-purpose solar filters.

Zoom in: Staring straight at the Sun during partial and annular solar eclipses can cause permanent damage to the retina, according to the American Astronomical Society.

  • This can also cause blindness or "solar retinopathy."

Solar eclipse glasses versus sunglasses

Sunglasses aren't safe for viewing the Sun during the eclipse.

  • Safe solar viewers are "thousands of times darker" and should comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard, per the Astronomical Society.

Yes, but: During the April 2024 total solar eclipse, there may be a few minutes when the Moon completely blocks the Sun where it will be safe to look without solar glasses for areas in the path of totality.

Where to buy eclipse glasses?

Some national chain stores like Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe's might have eclipse glasses available for sale but it can vary by location, the Astronomical Society notes.

  • For Saturday's eclipse and the April 2024 total eclipse, 10,000 libraries across the country have been distributing free eclipse glasses as part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation-funded Solar Eclipse Activities for Libraries project.
  • The same eclipse glasses can be used on Saturday and for the April total eclipse.

Between the lines: Even if you wear eclipse glasses or proper solar viewers, NASA says not to look at the Sun through a camera lens, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device.

  • The "concentrated solar rays will burn through the filter and cause serious eye injury," the space agency warns.

Eclipse eye damage symptoms

Context: The New Mexico Department of Health said exposing your eyes to the eclipse can cause "eclipse blindness or retinal burns."

  • "Symptoms include loss of central vision, distorted vision and altered color vision," the health department said. "If you notice symptoms after viewing a solar eclipse, seek treatment from an eye care professional immediately."
  • The eye damage can be temporary or permanent and can take a few hours to a few days to realize the damage has occurred.

DIY options if you can't find eclipse glasses

Details: NASA says if you don't have eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer, you can use an indirect viewing method like creating a pinhole projector or eclipse projector.

  • The indirect methods do not involve looking at the Sun.

How to take eclipse photos

NASA's tips for photographing an annular solar eclipse start with safety.

  • A special solar filter is needed for cameras similar to how eclipse glasses are needed to protect eyes, NASA explains.
  • Any camera can be used to take photos including phone cameras.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Prevent Blindness recommends using a tripod and apps for long exposure mode like Solar Snap.

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