It’s a historical event and everyone wants to see it. On August 21, many Americans will be able to observe a full or partial eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon covers any part of our view of the sun. But is watching the eclipse safe for kids?
“On a normal sunny day, our eyes naturally close or have a tendency to look away to protect ourselves from the sun, says Dr. Palak Wall, a pediatric ophthalmologist in the Vision Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. “During an eclipse, due to the sun being partially blocked, the tendency is to look at the sun for much longer than we ever normally would.”
Focusing on the sun is when the damage happens.
“Looking directly at the sun can cause solar retinopathy, which is permanent damage to your retina,” said Dr. Wall. “The retina is similar to the film of a camera, and if it is damaged, vision could be permanently impaired. Look out for signs of damage including loss of central vision, distorted vision, or problems with color vision and see an eye care specialist with any symptoms.”
If you do plan on viewing the eclipse, this can be done directly through solar filters or indirectly through a viewing device. Regular sunglasses even if polarized do not offer adequate protection, nor does looking through a camera, telescope, or binoculars. Due to the sale of counterfeit products, labels that say glasses are ISO approved may not be true.
“If you are looking through proper eclipse glasses, you should not be able to see anything except the sun as they block out 99.99% of light,” Dr. Wall said. “The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has a list of companies that conform to the proper standards.”
Another acceptable method is using welder’s glasses with shade 12 or higher lenses.
“Check the glasses before use to make sure there are no scratches or defects,” Wall advises. “Put the glasses on before looking at the sun and do not remove them until you look away.”
If you are watching with a child, please be sure to supervise them closely to make sure they are looking through the glasses the whole time.
“If you have a young child and do not feel they will be able to look through the lenses, they may not be ready to view the eclipse yet,” said Dr. Wall. “You may have read that there is a time that is safe to view the eclipse without solar glasses. This is true only during the peak of a total eclipse, which we are not in the path of here in Ohio, so it will be essential to wear proper eye protection to view all parts of the eclipse in our area of the country.”
Another easy option is to create a viewing device or to project the image. This is done through a pinhole projector.
“The simplest way to do this is to put one hand with fingers outstretched on top of the other and look at the shadow of your fingers with your back to the sun,” said Dr. Wall. “In the grid spaces in between your fingers you will see small projections of the sun. You can achieve the same effect by looking at the shadow of a leafy tree and looking at the small spaces between the leaves.”
You can make a pinhole projector with 2 pieces of paper. Simply take a small hole in one piece of paper with a pushpin or safety pin and, with your back to the sun, hold it up. Hold another piece of paper about a foot away from the first one and you will see an image of the crescent.
“A fun project with kids would be to make a projector,” said Dr. Wall. “You cut a rectangular hole on one end of the box. Tape a piece of foil over the hole and use a pin to poke a hole in the foil. Tape a sheet of white paper on the other end of the inside of the box. Make a viewing hole on the side of the box near the pinhole. Line up the pinhole with the sun and look through the viewing hole at the piece of paper and you will see a projected image of the sun.”
Dr. Wall recommends the American Astronomical Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology as great resources for more details about viewing the eclipse while protecting the health of eyes, young and old.