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Vision safety when watching a solar eclipse
A solar eclipse can be an amazing thing to see, but make sure you follow the recommended vision safety protocols so you can continue to see well afterwards.
A total solar eclipse, which is when the Moon completely covers the Sun, will occur across 14 states in the continental U.S. on Aug 21, 2017. Credits: NASA
The CDC has several recommendations to safely view the solar eclipse
Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If youʻve been reading the news, you might have heard about the total solar eclipse schedule to appear on Monday, August 21. While the full eclipse wonʻt be visible from Hawai‘i, early risers can catch a glimpse of a partial eclipse. Nonetheless, the celestial event is also a good opportunity to refresh and remind yourself on how to protect your vision when taking part in these special events.

Here are some resources and tips on vision safety when participating in solar eclipse viewing. Please share these with friends and ‘ohana on the continent who may be taking part.

From the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO):

Watching a solar eclipse is a memorable experience, but looking directly at the sun can seriously damage your eyes. Staring at the sun for even a short time without wearing the right eye protection can damage your retina permanently. It can even cause blindness, called solar retinopathy.

There is only one safe way to look directly at the sun, whether during an eclipse or not: through special-purpose solar filters. These solar filters are used in “eclipse glasses” or in hand-held solar viewers. They must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2.

Keep in mind that ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, or homemade filters are not safe for looking at the sun.

Steps to follow for safely watching a solar eclipse:

  • Carefully look at your solar filter or eclipse glasses before using them. If you see any scratches or damage, do not use them.
  • Always read and follow all directions that come with the solar filter or eclipse glasses. Help children to be sure they use handheld solar viewers and eclipse glasses correctly.
  • Before looking up at the bright sun, stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer. After glancing at the sun, turn away and remove your filter—do not remove it while looking at the sun.
  • The only time that you can look at the sun without a solar viewer is during a total eclipse. When the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets dark, you can remove your solar filter to watch this unique experience. Then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear very slightly, immediately use your solar viewer again to watch the remaining partial phase of the eclipse.
  • Never look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other similar devices. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the solar filter and your eyes.
  • Talk with an expert astronomer if you want to use a special solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device.

Read more from the AAO here.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

The only way to look directly at the sun when it’s not eclipsed or is only partly eclipsed is with a special solar filter, such as eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer. Goggles, homemade filters, or sunglasses, even very dark ones, will not protect your eyes. Also, always avoid looking at the sun through an unfiltered camera, smartphone, telescope, or any other optical device. You’ll need to add a certified solar filter to these devices to safely look at the sun.

Eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers are inexpensive and can be purchased from many retailers. However, not all meet the required ISO 12312-2 international safety standards; make sure yours do. Even if your eclipse glasses meet the safety standards, don’t use them if:

  • The lenses are scratched.
  • The lenses are wrinkled.
  • They are older than 3 years.

You can also make your own simple and inexpensive pinhole projector to safely view the eclipse. Be sure to follow instructions carefully, and never look at the sun through the pinhole.

Read more from the CDC here.

From the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

NASA recommends that people who plan to view the eclipse should check the safety authenticity of viewing glasses to ensure they meet basic proper safety viewing standards.

Eclipse viewing glasses and handheld solar viewers should meet all the following criteria:

  • Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard
  • Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product
  • Not be used if they are older than three years, or have scratched or wrinkled lenses
  • Not use homemade filters
  • Ordinary sunglasses -- even very dark ones -- should not be used as a replacement for eclipse viewing glasses or handheld solar viewers

“While NASA isn’t trying to be the eclipse safety glasses ‘police,’ it’s our duty to inform the public about safe ways to view what should be a spectacular sky show for the entire continental United States,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s important that individuals take the responsibility to check they have the proper solar eclipse viewing glasses. With the eclipse a month away today, it’s prudent to practice ahead of time.”

An alternative method for safe viewing of the partially-eclipsed Sun is with a pinhole projector. With this method, sunlight streams through a small hole – such as a pencil hole in a piece of paper, or even the space between your fingers – onto a makeshift screen, such as a piece of paper or the ground. It’s important to only watch the screen, not the Sun. Never look at the Sun through the pinhole -- it is not safe.

NASA has coordinated with medical and science professionals to provide additional safety information. For details, visit: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety

Prescribed Reading is a column in which academic research and topics related to health and safety will be presented for reference. The articles are curated by Mālama Ola director Dr. Kenny Fink and presented with information on why the topic is important to you and your keiki.