On Monday, August 21, many eyes in the United States will be on the solar eclipse — a rare phenomenon that will take a path from Oregon all the way across the country to South Carolina. A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between the sun and Earth, blocking the sunlight and casting a shadow onto Earth.
Here in Seattle, we’re a couple hundred miles outside of the total solar eclipse path. Spectators can still see a partial eclipse in Washington. However, you should never look directly at the sun with the naked eye. Whether you’re looking at the total or partial eclipse, either can cause long-term damage to the eyes without proper protection.
Eye Damage for the Eclipse
The sun is the most powerful energy source in our solar system. As such, looking directly at the sun can cause solar retinopathy. This occurs when bright light from the sun floods the retina, a light-sensitive part of the eye that transmits what you see to your brain. Essentially, the sun’s harmful rays can effectively burn your eyes the way it can burn your skin.
It can take a few hours or even a few days before symptoms of eye damage occur and is often permanent. Signs of eye damage include: blurry vision, light sensitive, black spots and distorted vision.
Safety Tips for Viewing the Partial or Solar Eclipse
Before the eclipse, every member of the family needs to the proper safety eyewear—especially children. Regular sunglasses, googles or homemade filters won’t effectively block enough light to protect your eyes. Furthermore, do not look at the eclipse through an unfiltered camera, smart phone, telescope, binoculars or other optical device.
Make sure the glasses are certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It should say ISO 12312-2 on your glasses. Even if your eclipse glasses meet the safety standards, don’t use them if the lenses are scratched, wrinkled or older than 3 years. If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on and put your eclipse glasses on over them.
Seeing a total or partial eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. However, do not harm your eyes by being irresponsible. Stay safe and enjoy the incredible sight!