SOLAR ECLIPSE: DON’T LOOK AT IT
We spoke with eye surgeon Arthur Benjamin about an unusual topic today. Being too immersed in Earthly life, I didn’t even know a solar eclipse was approaching, and many are contemplating viewing this amazing phenomenon with the naked eye. It seems like there’s nothing dangerous about it, since the sun isn’t visible, but is it really safe?
So doctor, what of this impending eclipse? I’m not a fan of the sun, and it has been childhood since I watched a God-forsaken eclipse through smoked glass – I don’t regret that at all. But my friends in sunny California are preparing intensively.
That’s understandable – the solar eclipse, which takes place on August 21st, is a total eclipse and only visible in the US. The next such eclipse won’t occur until September 2nd, 2035, but this is no reason to risk your eyes.
I’m not sure that I’ll live to see the next one. I’ll have to watch this one in a week, especially since it’s exclusive to the residents of our country. So it won’t be visible in Russia, for example?
If it is, it’ll only be partial phases in the extreme northeast and Chukchi Peninsula.
It turns out that the sanctions are already working.
In Los Angeles, by the way, it won’t be visible, either. There is an optimal 65-mile zone – optimal for getting in trouble, unfortunately, but I understand why everyone wants to watch.
You’re hinting that it’s dangerous to stare at this natural phenomenon?
It’s dangerous alright. Millions of people will fill the mountains and forests of those states where there’s a big risk of forest fires. And after, patients often complain of spots, a decrease in visual acuity, lack of clarity, and a decrease in contrast. These consequences don’t always manifest themselves right away. People notice these changes in vision later, and many come in with complaints later in the day, in a couple weeks, or even a couple of months.
So what happens to the eyes more specifically?
After an eclipse, there is a surge of retinal injuries, so-called retinal maculopathy. It’s not a joke! In a number of patients, irreversible changes occur caused by direct exposure to solar radiation. It’s clear that signs of deterioration occur first in those who look at the sun without special protection. Macular dystrophy affects the central part of the retina, which is responsible for central vision. The main symptom is dark or cloudy spots in one or both eyes, and image distortion. Traumatic macular degeneration, as is the case in carefree admiration of a solar eclipse, is caused by the impact of an intense beam of light into the eye.
How does it get there? There’s no sun since we have an eclipse.
The eye receives rays from the rim or crown of the sun not covered by the moon. During an eclipse, overall light decreases and the pupils expand, making them more vulnerable to light, which eventually causes retinal burn.
Retinal burn – it’s pretty clear to anyone what that is, but I have never encountered articles on the dangers of solar eclipses. Was that discovered recently?
It’s been talked about for over a hundred years, and news of it spread throughout Europe in 1912.
It’s understandable not to look at the sun with the naked eye, and that even though it’s called a total eclipse, the crown is still visible. But can you look with dark glasses?
That’s the point – you cannot, even with sunglasses! Those who take that risk, without the help of special lenses that block the entire spectrum of light, should know that regular sunglasses will not protect you. Moreover, they can cause serious damage, because the overall picture is darker and you look longer, and the ultraviolet radiation invisible to you still penetrates. There is also no pain signal because you have obscured the visible light, unaware of the invisible. Furthermore, the sun at any time can pop out from under the moon before you have a chance to avert your eyes.
Above you mentioned the irreversibility of some changes. It’s that serious?
Solar retinal burn leaves dead spots in your central vision, and thus can worsen your vision for life. And although you won’t be completely blind, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy it.
Well, this has dramatically changed my perspective. When you offered to talk about solar eclipses, I must admit that I thought this was just a topic for me. But now I see that this conversation might save someone from being unaware and burning themselves.
You must talk about the dangers before, not after. Not to mention that you can lose your drivers license.
Well, what about those who can’t live without watching the eclipse, although a quick internet search will give you an incomparably better picture than what your eyes can offer?
They need to buy special glasses that can block the whole spectrum; they’re called eclipse glasses. They are 17 thousand times darker than the conventional ones. But I must warn that even this does not guarantee safety and cannot save the retina from trauma.
I already looked up prices; they cost anywhere from $2 to $400, and the latter probably have diamonds. And it’s easy to predict another question from readers: if special glasses are ok, what about a camera, binoculars, or a telescope?
I wouldn’t advise it. If you don’t have special glasses, then a pinhole camera is relatively safe – that is, a camera without a lens, the role of which is played by a small hole. Or they say you can look at the shadow of a tree, which is quite interesting for children. In any case, remember that no matter how fascinating it is, do not look for more than a few seconds.
Or look at any number of spectacular photos. Less risk, more fun. Thank you for the interview!