Solar Eclipse: Very Dangerous to the Naked Eye

Aug 09, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

On Aug. 21, people across the United States will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twlilight, causing the temperature to drop rapidly and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon. On that day, America will fall under the path of a solar eclipse.

In New Jersey, though, people will experience a partial eclipse, around 75 percent. Amanda Boyle, manager of the Robert J. Novins Planetarium at Ocean County College in Toms River, said the eclipse will begin around 1 p.m. and end at 4, with the peak time at 2:45.

Since a full eclipse affecting the entire U.S. is such an unusual experience (the last such event over the U.S. occurred in 1918), it is drawing much curiosity and a lot of buzz. But as exciting as this event is, it can be extremely dangerous to watch with the naked eye.

“There is a real possibility that you could burn the retina if you do not have adequate protection,” said Dr. David Klatz, an associate of the Snyder Eye Group in Ship Bottom and Tuckerton. “You could have temporary or permanent damage, depending on the severity of the injury.”

Klatz said the partial eclipse can be more dangerous to the eyes than a total eclipse.

“During the brief moment of a total eclipse, there is no sunlight,” he said. “But with a partial eclipse, there will always be some sunlight.”

He said the only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers. To make sure the glasses are safe, Klatz said, they must be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products.

“That certification is marked on the glasses,” he said.

According to NASA, an alternative method for safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun is a pinhole projection.

“For example, cross the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other, creating a waffle pattern,” the organization says on its website. “With your back to the sun, look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a grid of small images on the ground, showing the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse. Or just look at the shadow of a leafy tree during the partial eclipse; you’ll see the ground dappled with crescent suns projected by the tiny spaces between the leaves.”

Boyle said that outside the planetarium during the eclipse, the facility will invite the public to view the astral proceedings through special solar-filtered telescopes.

“What makes this really special is that you will be able to see some planets during the day that you can’t see in the night sky,” she said. “We’ll have tables set up for children’s activities such as eclipse coloring pages and various educational materials.”

While solar eclipses did occur in the United States in 1970 and 1979, the impacts were limited to the East Coast and the Northwest, respectively.

“But what makes this one really special is that it’s going to cut a path from east to west across the entire country, and that last happened in 1918,” she said. “The interest is going to be tremendous.”

— Eric Englund

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