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Scientists Warn Potential Retina Damage From Upcoming Eclipse

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Photo: NASA / Bill Ingalls

12-year-old Alex Frye checks his special viewing glasses prior to viewing the partial solar eclipse from a highway overpass in Arlington, VA, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.

The United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in nearly a century later this month, and vision experts are urging people to have proper eye-wear before watching the rare event.

Dr. Arthur Bradley is a Professor of Vision Science at the IU School of Optometry. He says looking at the sun during an eclipse is still damaging to your eyes, and you will need more than a pair of sunglasses to view the eclipse safely.

“If you wanted to use sunglasses, you’d have to stack maybe 20 or so pairs together, and then maybe that would be safe enough,” Bradley says.

The only safe way to directly view an eclipse is with eclipse glasses, and Bradley says they have to be certified. Certified glasses have a special film called Mylar, which he says only allows 1-millionth of sunlight to reach your eyes.

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Photo: James Vavrek

A pair of "solar viewing" glasses, also known as eclipse glasses.

“If you had no eye protection, you might take a quick glance at the sun for maybe a half a second. And that probably won’t do any lasting damage,” Bradley says. “But if you think you are protected, then you might view the whole eclipse which might last 15 or 20 minutes. Well during those 15 or 20 minutes, you will damage your retina.”

You can find other safe alternatives to viewing the eclipse indirectly, like the pin-hole camera technique, on NASA’s website.

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