It almost feels like a big holiday is coming up; and for some, the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse will be an experience of a lifetime. Whether you head up to one of the areas in the US that will experience a total eclipse or stay here in North Texas for a partial one, you need to be prepared to protect your eyes and those of the kids around you.

Most of the time we don’t have cause to stare at the sun, and even if we try, it is usually too bright and uncomfortable to do so. That is a good thing because it can damage the retinas of the eye and even cause blindness. According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the sun is half a million times brighter than a full moon, and it also emits ultraviolet and infrared radiation that can be harmful.

An eclipse is one of the few times we have cause to stare directly at the sun. When the moon starts to cover the sun, it is a little less bright, making it seem safe to look at. This is especially tempting to kids who are even more vulnerable to eye damage because of the clarity of the lenses that cover their young eyes.

In this video, Russell N. Van Gelder, MD, PhD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, explains how the eye can be damaged by the sun’s rays. He says that looking at the sun directly during the partial eclipse (even for just a few seconds) can permanently damage your vision.

This kind of eye damage is called solar retinopathy, and it can last for weeks, months, or be permanent.

Symptoms of Solar Retinopathy

  • Blurred vision
  • Blind spots
  • Change in the perception of color
  • Severe discomfort or pain in the eyes
  • Hypersensitivity to light
  • Headache

If you or someone you know develops these symptoms after viewing the eclipse, see your doctor right away.

The only time it is safe to stare directly at a solar eclipse is during the period called totality; when the sun is completely covered by the moon. And that usually only lasts a couple of minutes. This, as a reminder, won’t be happening in North Texas.

To safely watch an eclipse, you need to use an eclipse viewer or specially rated glasses that are thousands of times darker than regular sunglasses. Here is what the American Astronomical Society recommends:

We used to say that you should look for evidence that they comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for filters for direct viewing of the Sun.

But now the marketplace is being flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that are labeled as if they’re ISO-compliant when in fact they are not.

So now we suggest that you make sure you get (or got) your eclipse viewers from one of the suppliers listed on our Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers page.

Another safe way to experience the eclipse is by using a pinhole projector, which you can learn how to make here. The most important thing is that you get informed before the eclipse, and you keep an eye on the kids while it’s happening. You can also join an eclipse viewing party in North Texas like the one at the Frontiers of Flight Museum or Ray Roberts Lake State Park. Stay safe and enjoy the eclipse!