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Know Your Solar Eclipse Safety Precautions

The total solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21 will be the centre of attention for most of North America. The rare cosmic event will have the sun and moon line up, appearing the same size. Although total solar eclipses happen just once every 18 months or so, NASA says that a total eclipse hasn’t crossed the entire continent, coast-to-coast, since 1918.

In Canada, a total solar eclipse can’t be observed. The viewing site with the most eclipse coverage will be in Vancouver or the southwestern-most areas of BC, whose residents will experience 86% coverage. The optimal viewing sites within the path of totality will be between Oregon and South Carolina.

Path of the 2017 solar eclipse, created with Eclipse 2017 Android App, Geodata from OpenStreetMap Zoom 4. Source: Creative Commons.

Even brief viewing of a partial solar eclipse without protection can cause damage. Because the light is dimmer in a partial eclipse, our eyes don't receive the feedback mechanism from our brains to remind us that this light is harmful. Even viewing a partial eclipse with polarized sunglasses on can give you the equivalent of a welder's painful flash burn on your cornea in a matter of a few seconds. As well, in less than 15 to 20 seconds, a hole can be burned into your eye’s macula. Although painless, you could be left with a permanent central spot of blur in your vision.

We strongly advise that anyone planning to view the eclipse do so through a pair of solar filter viewing glasses. These protective glasses allow you to look directly at the sun before and after totality. In Canada, we will never see totality. If you are travelling to the path of totality to view eclipse, only in the state of totality it is safe to remove glasses and view with the naked eye. Remember, Canada will never see this, so do not look at the eclipse with the naked eye. Sky watchers should never look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. Looking directly at the sun, even when it is only partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or permanent blindness.

Because of the danger viewing an eclipse poses to your vision, the safest way to experience it is on television. If you choose to view the eclipse outside, here are the safest ways to watch with solar filters/viewers:

  1. If you are planning to watch the eclipse, ensure you purchase solar glasses or goggles equipped with ISO 12312-2 compliant sun filter lenses. They can be purchased from reputable vendors. Before the eclipse, carefully inspect your solar viewing glasses for any damage before using. If they are scratched, punctured, or torn, the concentrated solar rays could damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury. Read and follow any instructions printed on the glasses/viewer or its packaging.
  2. It is not recommended to allow children to view the eclipse, even with the aid of solar viewing glasses. Even supervised children may not follow directions. However, if you do allow them, always supervise them.
  3. Keep your prescription glasses on if you wear them normally. Place your solar viewing glasses on top of them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.
  4. Stand still and cover your eyes with your solar viewing glasses before looking up at the bright sun. After viewing the eclipse, look away from the sun and remove the filter. Do not remove the glasses when looking at the sun.
  5. Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, pair of binoculars, or any other optical device.
  6. Do not look at the sun through a camera, telescope, pair of binoculars, or any other optical device while using your solar viewing glasses or handheld solar filter. The concentrated solar rays could damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury.
  7. Check with experts before using a solar filter with a camera, telescope, pair of binoculars, or any other optical device. If you do, solar filters must be attached to the front of any optical lens.
  8. If you are travelling to the USA and will be in the path of totality, take off your solar viewing glasses only when the moon completely covers the sun. As soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, put your solar viewing glasses back on to look at the remaining partial phases.
  9. Outside the path of totality, such as us here in Canada, you must always use a safe solar filter or solar viewing glasses to view the sun directly.

For more information or to find out if your local Visique clinic has solar viewing glasses available, visit our site or nearest location.