Ask An Eye Doc: How to Safely View an Eclipse

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Anticipated to be the most viewed solar eclipse to date, a total solar eclipse will sweep its way across the U.S. on August 21st. The path of totality, areas that will experience a total eclipse where the moon completely covers the sun, will span across regions in 12 states. In those areas people will experience two minutes of darkness during the day. Those outside the path of totality will experience a partial eclipse. Find out what you can expect to see with this handy zip code search tool.

It’s been more than 40 years since any of the states in the continental U.S. have experienced a total eclipse. Being such a rare phenomenon, many eyes will be on the sky. With all the excitement, though, it’s important to remember basic eye safety: don’t look directly at the sun without proper protection. That means don’t look at the sun with the naked eye. Sunglasses, and even layers of them, are not enough to protect you when staring directly at the eclipse. Additionally, viewing the eclipse through a camera, binoculars or telescope requires a special solar filter, without which even more damage can occur by magnifying the sun’s intensity.

Proper Protection to Safely View a Solar Eclipse

Dr.  Nichole Moos, OD, shares her recommendations in this special edition of #AskAnEyeDoc, which are also summarized below the video.

  • Use special solar filter lenses, NOT regular sunglasses or layers of them. Solar filter lenses should be marked with the ISO 12312-2 international safety mark. Glasses that meet these specifications are commonly sold in hardware and big-box stores. They are also available online, but it’s important to be wary of counterfeit versions.
  • Do not use solar filters that are damaged, wrinkled, scratched or more than 3 years old.
  • If you use a welding mask or goggles, make sure the protection is rated at #14. Less than that will offer some protection but not enough to fully protect your eyes from directly staring at the sun.
  • If you are within the path of totality, only remove your solar filter when the moon completely covers the sun, as soon as the sun starts to peak out again put those glasses back on to protect your peepers.
  • A DIY option is to turn your back to the sun and use a pinhole projector to see the sun’s shadow change. Remember not to look at the sun itself, but at its projection in front of you.

You can also check out the safety tips that NASA developed for viewing the eclipse.

10 Comments

  • Nancy says:

    My husband wants to use welder masks; I hope they pass the requirement

    • Carol says:

      If you use a welding mask or goggles, make sure the protection is rated at #14. Less than that will offer some protection but not enough to fully protect your eyes from directly staring at the sun.

  • Lynn Glover says:

    You haven’t commented on IR and UV spectrum!

  • Marie says:

    There are apparently ‘special glasses’ from NASA. How does one obtain them?

    • Patrick Ibarra says:

      Marie,

      Solar eclipse glasses are available at big-box hardware stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. -Patrick I, VSP

  • Karen says:

    So excited! Will be awesome. Pray for no rain.

  • Dorinda M Sublett says:

    I’m going to try the pinhole projector. Can’t wait to see the eclipse.

  • Cindy says:

    Is it dangerous to take a selfie with the eclipse in the background of the picture?

  • Monica says:

    The NASA website states it’s okay to use #12 welding masks, is that not the case?

    • Patrick Ibarra says:

      Monica,

      It looks like NASA recently updated the article we linked with the following: “If it’s less than 12 (and it probably is), don’t even think about using it to look at the Sun. Many people find the Sun too bright even in a Shade 12 filter, and some find the Sun too dim in a Shade 14 filter — but Shade 13 filters are uncommon and can be hard to find.”

      Hope this helps! Thanks! – Patrick I., VSP

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