Monday’s solar eclipse is expected to be a unique event, but it’s not worth burning your retinas over.
Experts recommend anyone viewing the eclipse Monday afternoon wear specially approved glasses to avoid solar retinopathy, or damage to the eye’s retina. Even though the sun will be partially obscured, the remaining rays can do damage to people who stare at it for a significant time.
Dr. Brett Foxman, ophthalmologist and retina specialist at Retinal and Ophthalmic Consultants in Northfield, said it’s common sense to not stare at the sun on a normal day. The habit to look away from the sun shouldn’t change Monday.
“It’s pretty rare for someone to come in with sight damage from looking at the sun too long, but it does happen,” he said. “It’s the same risk during a solar eclipse — and increased, because people may think they can look at the sun since the brightness is knocked down, but the remaining sun is still enough to cause damage.”
Foxman said looking at the sun can damage the macula, or center part of the retina, the nerve lining that covers the back of the eye. The image of whatever someone looks at is focused on the retina, and looking at something like the sun can burn the retina.
The reason this area of the retina is important is because the macula contains the fovea, an extremely small point in the center that is responsible for a person’s sharpest central vision.
Damage to that area of the eye can impair or completely destroy straight-ahead vision, experts say. In other words, Foxman said, it could be the difference of reading several lines down on an eye chart exam versus only the top letter E.
Experts say people are often not aware of the damage happening because it is painless.
Prolonged ultraviolet ray exposure from the sun can damage the macula, which is why experts like Foxman and solar eclipse scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration stress the importance of wearing special-purpose solar filters.
Regular sunglasses, welding glasses or anything else not approved by the American Astronomical Society most likely let in too much light and therefore are not effective for someone staring at the eclipse, Foxman said.
A list of American Astronomical Society-approved eclipse glasses that meet the international standard ISO 12312-2 can be found at eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.
People should also not use things like binoculars or telescopes without special filters to view the solar eclipse as the sun’s heat will be magnified, NASA experts said.
People in the pathway of the total solar eclipse, which does not include any part of New Jersey, can remove their glasses when the moon completely covers the face of the sun.
Making a pinhole projector is also a safe, indirect way of viewing the solar eclipse. Foxman said that’s how he viewed a past solar eclipse with his children, and it was just as good a way to experience the event.
“If you make a big one, it could be something for a large number of people to see,” he said. “This weekend I’ll play around with it to remember how I did it back then, because as long as the sun’s out, you can practice.”
To learn more about solar eclipse eyeglass safety and how to create a pinhole projector, visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.