Eye Damage From Solar Eclipses: Why it Happens (& Prevention)

Looking at a solar eclipse is dangerous for the eyes. It can cause a condition called solar retinopathy, which is when solar radiation damages the eyes. It can even lead to permanent blind spots or distortions in your vision.

This damage occurs when people underestimate the sun, thinking that an eclipse blocks enough of its light for it to be safe to look at. In reality, solar radiation remains dangerous during an eclipse.

Some people think they don’t need glasses or other lenses specifically designed to look at an eclipse, instead using sunglasses or even nothing at all. These are dangerous misconceptions. You should always use proper eyewear if you want to look at an eclipse.

Always make sure you and those around you know how to safely use the glasses. Children are especially at risk for improperly looking at an eclipse.

How Does a Solar Eclipse Damage the Eyes?

Is a solar eclipse bad

Most solar eclipses are partial solar eclipses. As the name implies, a partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon does not completely cover the sun. At no point is it safe to look directly at such an eclipse without eye protection.

The reason you should not look at the sun even when it is partially obscured is solar radiation. Your eye uses a lens, the retina, to see. Much like a magnifying glass, the lens can focus the powerful rays of the sun, doing serious damage to the mechanisms of your eye. Even when partially obscured, the light of the sun is still very much able to hurt your sight.

There is one period during the other type of solar eclipse, a total solar eclipse, where looking at it without protection is safe. This is because, by its nature, a total solar eclipse does indeed involve the moon totally blocking the sun’s direct rays for a period of about one to two minutes. However, if you intend to look at this type of eclipse directly, it is still wise to use protection.

If you intend to risk looking, make sure to research ahead of time the proper way to do so. The eclipse is still dangerous to look at for most of the event.

Common Misconceptions About Solar Eclipse Damage

Some common misconceptions about solar eclipses include:

  • Dark sunglasses, homemade filters, and cheap eclipse glasses are fine for viewing an eclipse. Any glasses that do not follow the ISO 12312-2 international standard (a safety standard meant for products intended to look at the sun) are likely to leak dangerous light into your eyes if you stare at the sun. Only use specialized glasses from reputable sources to watch an eclipse.
  • Eclipse glasses do not have a shelf life and can easily be reused. Scratches, cracks, or tears in glasses meant to protect you from an eclipse can render the product useless. Any product that has even mild damage on the lenses should not be trusted to protect you from the sun.
  • Eclipses do not last long enough to do lasting damage to your eyes. This is simply not true. Staring at the sun for even brief periods risks permanent damage, and eclipses last for minutes, which is plenty of time for the sun to do serious damage.

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Is a solar eclipse bad

Preventing Damage From a Solar Eclipse

To prevent damage from a solar eclipse, use proper protection. Even if you are going to view a total solar eclipse, it is better to be safe and use eye protection than to accidentally expose yourself to dangerous rays by looking at the eclipse at the wrong time.

Make sure your eye protection is properly made and from a reputable source. Obscure, cheap products may even claim to follow ISO 12312-2 when they do not.

While eclipse glasses that are older are not necessarily useless, they should be thoroughly inspected before being used again. If the product is older than three years, it should not be used.

To protect young children and anyone who is unfamiliar with safe practices, make sure to explain how to properly use the protective glasses and confirm the rules are followed. The glasses should be worn at all times when looking at the sun, and any instructions provided by the manufacturers should be followed.

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— Update: 12-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article What Happens to Your Eyes If You Look Directly at the Sun During a Solar Eclipse? from the website time.com for the keyword is a solar eclipse bad.

For the first time in U.S. history, a solar eclipse will travel exclusively across America, enabling millions of people to view the moon block out the sun on Aug. 21. (Watch TIME’s livestream of the total eclipse beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Monday.) But those who watch this rare celestial event in person need to take precautions, because staring right at the sun can quickly harm your eyes.

“Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality,” NASA explains on its website. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.”’

The path of totality, which is about 70 miles wide, is viewable from parts of 14 states, as shown on this solar eclipse map, and only lasts a maximum of two minutes and 40 seconds, according to NASA. Before and after the total solar eclipse, those in its path will see a partial eclipse, in which the moon only partly blocks the sun. The rest of the country will also see a partial eclipse — so essentially, everyone needs to prepare themselves to view the eclipse safely.

NEXT: Watch the Whole Total Solar Eclipse in 4 Minutes

Here’s what you need to know about why a solar eclipse hurts your eyes and how to protect your eyes effectively:

Why Does a Solar Eclipse Damage My Eyes?

According to experts, viewing the sun with your naked eye during the eclipse can burn your retina, damaging the images your brain can view. This phenomenon, known as “eclipse blindness,” can cause temporary or permanent vision impairment, and in worst-case scenarios can lead to legal blindness, which entails significant loss of vision.

“If people look without the proper protection [at the sun], they run the risk of injuring their eyes. And if they get an injury, depending on how often and how long they look at the sun without the protection, they do have a substantial risk of developing a permanent loss of vision,” said Dr. B. Ralph Chou, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and a former optometry professor. It is not possible to go completely blind from looking at the eclipse, Chou said, because the injury is limited to the central part of your visual field.

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There are no immediate symptoms or pain associated with the damage — the retina doesn’t have any pain receptors — so its hard to know at the time if you’ve actually been afflicted with eclipse blindness. If you look at the sun unfiltered, you may immediately notice a dazzle effect, or a glare the way you would from any bright object, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your retina is damaged. According to Chou, symptoms generally begin occurring 12 hours after viewing the eclipse, when people wake up in the morning and notice their vision has been altered.

“They can’t see faces in the mirror, they can’t read the newspaper or the smartphone display, they’re having trouble looking at road signs, and basically they’ve got this center spot in their vision that is intensely blurred,” Chou said.

There are no remedies to effectively mitigate the injury, said Chou, aside from waiting and seeing if the patient regains vision. This does happen, but not until at least three months after the injury.

Has This Happened Before?

Yes. People have hurt their eyes by watching the sun during a solar eclipse unfiltered. However, it is a relatively rare occurrence. Although Chou said there is no definitive data on the number of people afflicted with eclipse blindness, he noted that after a solar eclipse crossed Britain in 1999, ophthalmologists reported 70 instances of eye injuries, and the majority of those people had viewed the eclipse unfiltered. In Canada, 20 cases were reported following the total solar eclipse of 1979. Of the cases reported over the years, Chou said half the people afflicted completely recovered their vision over the course of the following year.

“It’s a fact that for individual practitioners, they are not seeing that many [cases] overall,” Chou said. “It’s only if you start looking at large populations in the hundreds of millions that you start adding up into significant numbers.”

What Can I Do to Protect My Eyes?

To ensure your experience is injury-free, listen to NASA’s advisory and buy eclipse glasses, which block approximately 99.99% of light rays. But also make sure follow NASA’s instructions in using these glasses. When the glasses are on, NASA says, it is imperative that you don’t look at the sun through an unfiltered camera lens, telescope, or binoculars.

Additionally, make sure that the brand of glasses you buy has been verified to meet the international safety standard, something Chou emphasized as critical to injury prevention. The American Astronomical Society has released a list of manufacturers selling these glasses that meet this standard. NASA also suggests you inspect your filter before putting it on, and discard it if it has any scratches or damages.

“If you don’t try to sneak a peek without the filter,” says Chou, “Then you should not run any risk of being hurt.”

Write to Alana Abramson at [email protected]

— Update: 13-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Myths and Superstitions Around Solar Eclipses from the website www.timeanddate.com for the keyword is a solar eclipse bad.

Hindu deity Rahu is known for causing eclipses.


Ancient Explanations for Solar Eclipse

Ancient cultures tried to understand why the Sun temporarily vanished from the sky, so they came up with various reasons for what caused a solar eclipse.

In many cultures, the legends surrounding solar eclipses involve mythical figures eating or stealing the Sun. Others interpreted the event as a sign of angry or quarreling gods.

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Hungry Demons, Thieving Dogs

In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the Sun.

In ancient China, a celestial dragon was thought to lunch on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. In fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.

According to ancient Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.

Korean folklore offers another ancient explanation for solar eclipses. It suggests that solar eclipses happen because mythical dogs are trying to steal the Sun.

Traditionally, people in many cultures get together to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during a solar eclipse. It is thought that making a noise scares the demon causing the eclipse away.

Native American Solar Eclipse Myths and Legends

The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear.

After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and take a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse. This story may have been their way of explaining why a solar eclipse happens around 2 weeks before or after a lunar eclipse.

Angry Sun

The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of angry gods and that it was the beginning of disasters and destruction.

How superstition influenced the course of history

The Tewa tribe from New Mexico in the United States believed that a solar eclipse signaled an angry Sun who had left the skies to go to his house in the underworld.

Quarreling Sun and Moon

According to Inuit folklore, the Sun goddess Malina walked away after a fight with the Moon god Anningan. A solar eclipse happened when Anningan managed to catch up with his sister.

The Batammaliba, who live in Benin and Togo, used a solar eclipse as a teaching moment. According to their legends, an eclipse of the Sun meant that the Sun and the Moon were fighting and that the only way to stop them from hurting each other was for people on Earth to resolve all conflicts with each other.

Modern Day Sun Superstitions

Fear of solar eclipses still exists today. Many people around the world still see eclipses as evil omens that bring death, destruction, and disasters.

A popular misconception is that solar eclipses can be a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. In many cultures, young children and pregnant women are asked to stay indoors during a solar eclipse.

In many parts of India, people fast during a solar eclipse due to the belief that any food cooked while an eclipse happens will be poisonous and unpure.

Not all superstitions surrounding solar eclipses are about doom. In Italy, for example, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

No Scientific Basis

Scientists and astronomers around the world have debunked any such claims. There is no scientific evidence that solar eclipses can affect human behavior, health, or the environment. Scientists, however, do emphasize that anyone watching a solar eclipse must protect their eyes.

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Topics: Astronomy, Eclipses, Moon, Sun


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