“Not if you do it correctly,” says Dr. Russell N. Van Gelder
Daredevils are dying to know: Will staring directly into Monday’s solar eclipse render you totally blind?
“The short answer is that there is a significant risk of damaging your vision permanently if you view the eclipse without the proper protection,” Russell N. Van Gelder, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told Moneyish. “You can lose your central vision … by the legal definition, you can wind up blind.”
Solar retinopathy, as it’s called, can happen after you glimpse the sun’s rays during an eclipse even for just a few seconds, Van Gelder said. It’s the retinal equivalent of focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass to set fire to paper or a leaf, he said — only your eye’s magnifying system is roughly four times stronger than the average magnifying glass.
And because the light-sensitive retina doesn’t have pain fibers, you won’t feel the sun essentially burning a hole in it.
“You won’t end up in the situation where the world is black, but you can end up with a permanent blind spot right in the center of your vision that would prevent you from reading (or) driving,” he added.
Studies show about half of people with solar retinopathy recover, but there’s a chance the blind spot will be permanent, Van Gelder said. One of his patients, for example, was afflicted in one eye 71 years ago when he glimpsed an eclipse through a smoked piece of glass at age nine. (Fortunately, he had the other eye closed.)
Van Gelder issued a “special plea” to parents and caregivers to take precautions with their kids. “The temptation to look directly at the sun is very strong for them,” he said, adding most solar retinopathy cases he sees are in children. But your pets will probably be fine, as “generally animals are very averse to looking at the sun.”
Monday’s total eclipse — the first in nearly a century to cross the entire continental U.S. — hits Oregon around 10:15 a.m. Pacific, travels through parts of 14 states and wraps its journey about 2:50 p.m. Eastern in South Carolina.
The rest of the continent will get to see a partial eclipse, which can be safely observed using eclipse-viewing glasses compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international standard or a pinhole projector, NASA says. (The American Astronomical Society has a handy list of reputable vendors to help you avoid scams.) Ray-Bans are not an acceptable alternative.
And if you’re using binoculars, a telescope or camera, make sure you use a specialty solar filter to protect your eyes. It’s not safe to use them while wearing eclipse glasses, Van Gelder said, since “they focus the light further and … overcome the shades of the eclipse glasses.”
The only time your naked eyes are safe is during those brief minutes of totality, when the moon completely covers the sun. “It is safe to look at the corona of the sun,” Van Gelder said, referring to the wispy aura surrounding the hot ball of gas. “But as soon as that first ray of sun comes out, you have to put the eclipse glasses back on.”
“Never before will a celestial event be viewed by so many and explored from so many vantage points – from space, from the air, and from the ground,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. “With our fellow agencies and a host of scientific organizations, NASA will continue to amplify one key message: Take time to experience the Aug. 21 eclipse, but experience it safely.”
If you’re too paranoid to risk your precious eyesight, play it 100% safe and watch online: NASA will air four-hour coverage with live video views and local reports from the total eclipse path. Access it through the NASA app, social media or the Toshiba Vision screen in Times Square.
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