Safely Viewing the Solar Eclipse: Tips to Protect Your Vision

Monday, August 21, 2017

Safely Viewing the Solar Eclipse: Tips to Protect Your Vision

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will be visible across North America (weather permitting). During a solar eclipse, the moon blocks part of the sun from our view.

According to Beloit Health System Ophthalmologist Alice Townshend, MD, watching a solar eclipse can be tempting, but looking directly at the sun can cause serious damage to your eyes. Staring at the sun for even a short time without wearing the right eye protection can damage your retina permanently and cause blindness.

Solar filters or “eclipse glasses” are the only safe way to look directly at the sun. Townshend says they are specifically designed to protect your eyes from the sun and must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2.

Dr. Townshend adds that ordinary sunglasses are not a safe alternative because they do not offer enough protection from the suns damaging rays.

Dr. Townshend encourages anyone interested in viewing the solar eclipse to follow a few safety tips outlined by the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • Carefully look at your solar filter or eclipse glasses before using them. If you see any scratches or damage, do not use them.
  • Always read and follow all directions that come with the solar filter or eclipse glasses. Help children to be sure they use handheld solar viewers and eclipse glasses correctly.
  • Before looking up at the bright sun, stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer. After glancing at the sun, turn away and remove your filter—do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • In Wisconsin and Northern Illinois residents will see a partial solar eclipse.  Solar filters must be worn at all times when looking at a partial eclipse directly.  
  • Never look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, smart phone or other similar devices. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage your eyes.
  • Talk with an expert astronomer if you want to use a special solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device.
  • Learn how to make a pinhole projector for indirect eclipse viewing at:  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/project/how-to-make-a-pinhole-camera/

After the August 2017 eclipse across North America, the next total solar eclipse will be in South America on July 2, 2019.

Alice Townshend, MD is a board certified ophthalmologist at the Beloit Clinic Eye Center, 1905 East Huebbe Parkway in Beloit, WI.

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