Safe sun-sighting during the eclipse: Why you’re gonna need the glasses

Park rangers like Rob Lorenz will have on their eclipse glasses. (Neal Herbert, NPS)

#wyoclipse by Shoshone Rose Casino & Hotel

WYOMING – Okay, you sneak a peek at the sun every now and then all the time. Why can’t you look at it briefly during the eclipse? What makes it so deadly, and will you really go blind doing so? And another thing. Why won’t regular sunglasses suffice? The whole “must buy the glasses” sounds like great marketing for the companies that make the glasses.

Children will be especially eager to look up at the sun as the moon covers it.

Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) official Dr. Alexia Harrist is the state epidemiologist. She is a bit concerned about the temptation to look up during the event.

“We know many Wyoming communities will be treated to a total solar eclipse and that’s something to be excited about. Eye safety is very important in those specific areas and beyond because all of Wyoming will experience a solar eclipse of more than 90 percent ‘totality’ that morning,” Harrist said. “While staring directly at the sun is never good, the temptation to look at the sun during the eclipse will no doubt be strong for all of us, including for children,” Harrist said. “If you’re going to look at the sun from anywhere in Wyoming without protection your eyes could be damaged.”

Think of the sun as a massive, ongoing thermonuclear explosion. That’s not something you want to be any nearer to than about 93 million miles. And you definitely should not be gazing fondly upon it for too long. The ultraviolet sunlight can cause a number of eye disorders.

During an eclipse, looking at a sliver of remaining sun is worse than looking at the full sun. Why? Well, the darkness will signal your pupils to dilate to take in more light. But it’s a trick. Your retina gets scorched and, because the retina has no pain receptors, you, won’t even realize the damage being done. Temporary blindness is quite possible but should abate after a few minutes.

Yikes, right? But do I really need these “special” glasses? What’s wrong with my Pugs?

Master Sgt. Brian Mann, Defense Media Activity-Pacific, pacific theater maintenance superintendent, captures the annular solar eclipse with his custom-made pinhole filter at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 21, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo, Osakabe Yasuo)

Harrist noted the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewers. “Ordinary sunglasses, even if they are very dark, will not allow you to safely look at the sun,” she said.

Many vendors are selling eclipse glasses in stores or online, and they may also be available at Wyoming eclipse-related community events. To do the job, eclipse glasses or solar viewers should:

  • Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard
  • Display the manufacturer’s name and address
  • Not be used if they have scratched or wrinkled lenses or are older than three years

“It’s also important you do not look at the sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or similar device,” Harrist said. “You also should not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars or other device while also using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer. The concentrated solar rays can damage the filter and seriously injure your eyes.”

Basically, your ordinary shades don’t have an effective UV-blocking filter. You need industrial strength No. 14 welder’s goggles. Of course, you could also whip up the ol’ cardboard pinhole trick (ask your parents or grandparents) which is a simple projector of the sun’s image cast onto the side of an Amazon delivery box—perhaps the one your eclipse glasses were shipped in.