Stocks of eclipse glasses are running low. That’s not an excuse to forget eye protection.
If you’re going to stare at the sun during the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21, you need eye protection. Retailers across the country are reportedly selling out of the specs due to high demand. People have been camping out for a chance to snag a few last remaining pairs. Online, the prices have spiked: You can find a box of five for $100 on Amazon! Not long ago, they cost about $1.50 each.
Making matters worse: Counterfeits of certified glasses have been spotted. And Amazon has recalled pairs that didn’t meet international standards for solar viewing (whose manufacturer didn’t provide proper documentation).
Still, there’s no excuse for not protecting your eyes if you’re going to admire the partial phases of the eclipse, when the sun is not totally covered by the moon. Because if you don’t, you risk permanent eye damage.
How the sun can burn a hole in your eyeball
The sun is the most powerful source of energy in the solar system. It’s the most energetic object for light-years in all directions (it’s literally a huge fusion reactor). The energy it expels is so intense it can actually burn holes in your vision.
And it’s particularly dangerous because of the anatomy of our eyes, Joel Schuman, chair of ophthalmology at NYU Langone Health, explains. When light enters our eyes, the lens focuses light to the retina, located in the back of the eye. We see thanks to the retina’s chemical sensors picking up on the presence of light and transmitting information to the brain.
The retina can handle indirect sunlight just fine. But think of what happens when you hold a magnifying glass up to the sun. It focuses light intensely enough to start a fire.
“The light from the sun is very intense and concentrated into a very small area, and then that light is converted into heat and that heat cooks the retina,” Schuman says. “So you have a permanent area that you don’t see, a permanent blind spot.” What’s worse, a retina burn doesn’t heal like a sunburn on the skin. It actually doesn’t heal at all.
So be sure, if you think your eyes have been damaged, to see a doctor for treatment!
When you get glasses, here’s the No. 1 thing to look for: Make sure the glasses are certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The glasses should mark that they meet ISO 12312-2 Safety Standard, like so:
ISO 12312-2:2015 applies to all afocal (plano power) products intended for direct observation of the sun, such as solar eclipse viewing.