Solar Eclipse Safety: How to Protect the Eyes of Your Budding Astronomers

Boy watching sunset with fatherA solar eclipse is coming on August 21st. Are you ready?

Depending on where you’re watching the eclipse, you’re going to need to protect your eyes very carefully. Looking directly at the sun’s rays can cause solar retinothopy, a burn to the back of the eyes causing long term or short term vision loss.

If you are a parent watching with children, you need to be very conscientious about making sure your kids’ eyes are protected.

All solar eclipse glasses should be certified by NASA.

If you’re watching from NC, and you’re seeing a partial eclipse, you will need to wear the glasses for the duration of the eclipse. It isn’t safe to look at a partial eclipse at any time without NASA-certified eclipse glasses.

If you happen to be fortunate enough to be in the band from which you can see the total eclipse, there will be a 2-2.5 minute period during which the moon will completely cover the sun. It is safe during that time and that time only to look in the sun’s direction without glasses.

During the time leading up to the eclipse and the time immediately after, children need to be wearing their NASA-certified eclipse glasses if they are looking in the sun’s direction.

“There is no safe way for kids to look directly at the eclipse if they are not wearing NASA-certified eclipse glasses,” according to Kathy Whitfield, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Ophthalmology at UNC.  “And if you’re using eclipse glasses with kids, make sure they look away from the sun BEFORE taking their glasses off.”

There are some safe methods for indirect viewing, such as the pinhole projector, according to Whitfield. You can make one easily with these instructions from NASA, using a cereal box, some aluminum foil and tape.

If you are travelling to see the total solar eclipse, remember that this experience can actually be frightening to children.

“The darkness is complete. Animals get freaked out,” Whitfield says.

Discuss it with your children first: How exciting it is, and also how everything is OK.

This might be a great reason to go to your local library to look at some books about eclipses together in preparation.

Remember to have fun and protect your little astronomer’s eyes!