Monday, August 21, is a special science day – the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States mainland in 40 years. This can be an exciting event for both kids and parents as long as we practice “safe viewing”. Le Bonheur Medical Director of Emergency Services Barry Gilmore, MD, provides insight into why we must protect our eyes and how to safely view the eclipse.

What is the danger of viewing the eclipse without eye protection?

The crescent of the sun is just as bright and strong as a day without an eclipse. Looking at the sun, even briefly, can cause temporary or even permanent damage to the vision cells of the eye. The damage might not be noticed until a few hours later because the cells still function for a short time after damage. This is known as “Solar Retinopathy”.

What eye protection is needed?

Specialized filters – glasses or viewing film made of specific type of “Mylar” that say ISO12312-2. These are approved by the International Standards Organization and endorsed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Do you need the eye protection if you are outside but aren’t viewing the eclipse?

It is recommended that children, and their parents, wear appropriate eye protection every day.

Why won’t sunglasses work as protection?

No sunglass lens is strong enough to protect your eyes when looking at the sun. Approved “eclipse glasses” are 1,000 times darker than regular sunglasses.

Where can you get the proper eye wear?

There are multiple sites, both local and online – be sure that they meet the approved standard and indicate ISO12312-2.

Is it safe to take photos or look at the solar eclipse through a camera lens?

Only devices fitted with special solar filters can be used, and only with caution. Remember that cameras, binoculars and telescopes concentrate the light and make it even MORE intense.

What other tips or advice for safely viewing the eclipse do you have for parents?

There are multiple sites with advice and suggestions on safe alternative ways to view an eclipse. A particularly good one is eclipse2017.nasa.gov and eclipse.aas.org