How to Watch the Solar Eclipse Without Damaging Your Eyes

We got solar eclipse safety tips from Mass Eye and Ear’s Jason Comander.

Solar eclipse

Photo via istock.com/clintspencer

It’s been nearly a century since Americans from coast to coast got a glimpse of a solar eclipse—which is why the one happening August 21 is getting so much hype. While Massachusetts isn’t within the “band of totality”—the thin strip of land between Oregon and South Carolina that will see the moon completely block the sun—we’ll still get a partial view of the eclipse, peaking at 63 percent coverage at 2:46 p.m.

If you want to glimpse this rare phenomenon, it’s important to do so safely. We got solar eclipse safety tips from Jason Comander, the associate director of Mass Eye and Ear’s inherited retinal disorders service and an expert on “eclipse burns.”

Don’t: Look directly at the sun.

This is sage advice whether there’s an eclipse happening or not. “There isn’t a special kind of radiation that’s coming out of the sun during the eclipse,” Comander says. “It’s dangerous to stare directly at the sun, whether it’s on a regular day or partially eclipsed.”

Looking at the sun can “kill the light-sensing cells in the back of the eye, in the retina, and create blurry or blind spots that can be permanent,” Comander continues. And yes, even a quick peek may be enough to cause problems.

Don’t: Assume you’re fine if you don’t feel anything.

You’d know if your eyes were in danger, right? Wrong, Comander says. “It doesn’t hurt when you stare at the sun too long. In fact, the vision doesn’t get blurry right away, either,” he says. “The damage starts to show up half a day or a day afterward.” Play it safe and avoid any amount of direct exposure.

Do: Find a safe way to watch the eclipse.

Glasses made specifically for looking at the sun can protect your eyes during the eclipse, Comander says. Just make sure yours are from a reputable supplier, preferably one endorsed by the American Astronomical Society, and have an ISO 12312-2 marking on the side, which means they meet the standards for safe sun exposure. Sunglasses, as you may have guessed, don’t cut it.

Do: Get crafty.

Not looking to invest in eclipse glasses? “One thing that I think is more fun and a more interactive way to experience the eclipse is to use an indirect viewing method,” Comander says, adding that these are completely free and easy to make. You can create a “pinhole projector” simply by poking holes in a piece of paper, and placing another sheet of paper on the ground. If you hold the perforated piece such that light can filter through, you’ll see a crescent shape projected on the ground when the moon covers the sun. (You can find detailed instructions on Mass Eye and Ear’s blog.)

Don’t: Miss the eclipse.

Nobody should miss out on the eclipse because of fear of eye damage, Comander says. Just do your homework first. “Everybody can enjoy the eclipse safely, just taking some very simple precautions,” he says.