Weird Nature Solar Eclipses Can Cause Blindness - So Be Careful This Summer  

Kate Jacobson
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Solar eclipses are awesome. And hey, if you live in North America, you're in luck! In August 2017, a total solar eclipse will be in full view over parts of the US. Called the Great American Eclipse, this beauty will make its debut on August 21. And if you're interested in seeing it, make sure you bring some protective eyewear because looking at a solar eclipse with the bare eye can cause blindness.

Yes, your mother was right. Looking into the Sun too long is not good for your eyes. And a solar eclipse can cause blindness. So if you are planning on checking out the Great American Eclipse, make sure you read up on the appropriate solar eclipse eye protection. Grab your sunglasses (or a real nice piece of cardboard) and get to lookin', people.

The Light From The Sun During A Solar Eclipse Is So Intense It Can Burn Your Eye


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Photo: .Andi./flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

When you look directly at the Sun – even when there isn't an eclipse – it gives your eye a sunburn. UV light breaks through the cornea and causes inflammation, tearing, and irritation almost immediately. These symptoms are temporary if you avert your eyes from the Sun within moments. However, if you keep looking, those UV rays can permeate to the cornea and actually cause blindness. When the retina is overstimulated, it burns the surrounding tissue. Again, if you avert your eyes in enough time, your eyes can recover – just not as quickly as they would with a minor burn. Looking further causes macular degeneration, which can cause permanent blindness. 

Solar eclipses create a bigger threat because the light of the Sun is less intense to the naked eye. Meaning people can physically stare into the Sun longer because it's not as bright. Reflexes like blinking or pupil contraction are also slower to respond, because, again, the light isn't as intense. This makes people think it's safe to stare at the Sun, which it most definitely is not. 

How Can You Protect Your Eyes?


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Photo: Amazon

There are lots of ways to enjoy a solar eclipse safely. There is a plethora of solar eclipse glasses available on Amazon and other online retailers. These glasses are specially designed to block UV light from entering the eye while looking up at an eclipse. Some cities offer these glasses for free at local museums and libraries, so if you can see the Great American Eclipse, inquire around your local community. You can also buy solar filters to put over a microscope.

Or you can take a DIY approach. Using cardboard, two pieces of white paper, and a thumbtack, you can create a projector. It also blocks the UV light from affecting the eye through a series of reflections.

You Can View An Eclipse With The Naked Eye – But Only In Certain Conditions


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Photo: onohiroki/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

According to NASA, you can look at a solar eclipse with the naked eye – but only under a specific set of circumstances. And even then, they don't really recommend it. If you are viewing a total eclipse (like the Great American Eclipse) when the Moon is completely covering the Sun, your eyes should be okay. Though seeing the Sun 100% covered only occurs in the most optimal viewing locations. If you are in the optimal viewing area, be careful. The eclipse only lasts for about three minutes, and accidentally looking at the Sun directly before or after – even for a few seconds – can cause some damage.