Staring at the sun is always a bad idea. It’s a bad idea even when the moon slides in front of the sun and blocks out most of the sun’s rays, as will happen on Monday for a little over two-and-a-half minutes.
Basically, looking at the sun can give your eyeball a sunburn. Robert Rosa, an ophthalmologist at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine, explains in more detail:
Q: Why shouldn’t you look into a solar eclipse?
A: Staring at the sun for even a short time without wearing the right eye protection can damage the macula, which is responsible for our fine vision.
Q: Is this painful as it’s happening?
A: Not generally.
Q: Is there a way to view a solar eclipse (without damaging my eyes)?
A: The American Academy of Ophthalmology website suggests that, “There is only one safe way to look directly at the sun,” whether during an eclipse or not: through special-purpose solar filters. These solar filters are used in “eclipse glasses” or in hand-held solar viewers. They must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2 …
Q: So I can’t just use my sunglasses? They’re really awesome.
A: Ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, or homemade filters are not safe for looking at the sun. (Emphasis is Rosa’s.)
Q: What if I accidentally glance at the sun? Will I be blinded?
A: Most people may get a brief glimpse of the sun inadvertently without any injury. Prolonged observation with eye fixation on the sun causes the most severe retinal damage.
Q: If I’m wearing the ISO 12312-2 glasses, can I look through a camera or my telescope?
A: Never look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other similar devices. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time.
Q: So there’s never a time …
A: The only time that you can look at the sun without a solar viewer is during a total eclipse. When the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets dark, you can remove your solar filter to watch this unique experience. Then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear very slightly, immediately use your solar viewer again to watch the remaining partial phase of the eclipse.
*Author’s note: Despite what you might have heard, the Monday eclipse will not be a total eclipse in Austin. Central Texas is not in the “path of totality,” or places where the eclipse will be total. We will see only a partial eclipse, so don’t get your hopes up. As writer Annie Dillard once wrote: “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Also, because it’s a partial eclipse here, there is no time during which you can safely remove your eclipse glasses in Central Texas. Don’t do it, people!