back to article Don't make Aug 21 a blind date: Beware crap solar eclipse specs

The American Astronomical Society has warned that knockoff viewing glasses for this month's total solar eclipse will blind people if they wear them while looking up at the spectacle. The total eclipse will plunge parts of America into darkness for a few moments on August 21, and appear as a partial eclipse in UK, Europe, and …

  1. Don Dumb

    Genuine question

    I'll be over the North Atlantic when the eclipse starts to form, fortunate enough to land in the east coast before it starts in earnest. Will eclipse glasses work as effectively up at cruising altitude (especially as the eclipse will only be partial) or is the view of the sun too strong for the filters in standard eclipse viewing glasses?

    1. smudge

      Re: Genuine question

      Interesting question. The smartass answer is of course that since the Sun is about 93 million miles away, being 6 or 7 miles closer isn't going to make much difference. But then you remember that there will be a lot less atmosphere between you and the Sun.

      I've just done a quick search, and can't find anything to suggest that you need anything other than standard eclipse glasses. There will be lots of private flights in the air specifically to view the eclipse, and it's not unusual for commercial flights to alter their course - or even circle - to allow passengers to see an eclipse.

      However, I am neither a medic nor an astronomer. So I'd advise you to check with an opthamologist or with an astronomical society.

      1. Don Dumb
        Pint

        Re: Genuine question

        @smudge - many thanks. I was mainly thinking about atmosphere and the unbroken quality of sunlight up there pushing things beyond the design of the sunglasses. Sounds like it is unlikely but I'll make some more inquiries.

        Now all I've got to do is hope that I can get on the left side of the plane.

    2. Tim Warren

      Re: Genuine question

      Yes, a plane makes a good viewing platform. We used standard viewing glasses.

      Source: I watched the 11th August 1999 total solar eclipse from a plane above Cornwall, UK. Totally clear view, unlike those on the ground who had severe cloud cover. Flying with the path of the shadow meant we could increase our viewing time a little, though not as much as the special Condorde flight above us. The BBC also filmed from an RAF Hercules.

      1. Don Dumb
        Pint

        Re: Genuine question

        @Tim Warren - that's great, thanks for the info. I've just checked that I'm on the left(i.e. south) side of the plane. This flight was booked long before I realised there was going to be an eclipse so I'm feeling pretty lucky.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't worry USA

    As long as you are wearing your 'Trump - Make America Great'{1} glasses, everything will be 'Tremendous, Fantastic and the Mexicans will pay for the Wall'.

    {1} made like everything else with his brand on it, in China.

    It must be blindingly (sic) obvious that you don't look directly at the sun for more than a glance no matter how much is obscured by the moon.

    1. no-one in particular

      Re: Don't worry USA

      > you don't look directly at the sun for more than a glance no matter how much is obscured by the moon

      But when it is completely obscured at Totality then it _is_ safe to look and you really, really should.

      1. Robert Helpmann??
        Boffin

        Re: Don't worry USA

        > you don't look directly at the sun for more than a glance no matter how much is obscured by the moon

        But when it is completely obscured at Totality then it _is_ safe to look and you really, really should.

        The rub is in knowing when to look. Even glancing at the sun without protection adds up. Bad timing will result in a crescent shaped burn on your retina rather than the full circle you would get looking at our star on a normal day. Safest ways are to use eclipse glasses or indirect methods of viewing. Don't wake up blind the day after!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can you not watch it through binoculars turned the wrong way round as it would be further away therefore less dangerous?

  4. Alan J. Wylie

    Don't be like the gullible and superstitious

    Knock pilgrims warned of eyesight damage

  5. Pen-y-gors

    The perfect solution

    The Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. They follow the principle "what you don't know can't hurt you" and turn completely dark and opaque at the first sign of danger. This prevents you from seeing anything that might alarm you. This does, however, mean that you see absolutely nothing, including where you're going.

    Thank you Douglas.

    1. psychonaut

      Re: The perfect solution

      Which fuckwit downvoted douglas Adams?

      1. smudge

        Re: The perfect solution

        Marvin.

  6. David Roberts
    Boffin

    Cola

    A big bottle of cola works as a sun filter.

    Used many years ago in Denmark to watch an eclipse.

    I have childhood memories of using a candle to smoke a square of glass to use as a filter as well.

  7. Dave 126

    Pinhole projection methods

    There are also ways of projecting an image of the sun onto a sheet of white card.

    Googling will give you instructions on the set-up.

    As a bonus, you don't have to bend your neck up!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pinhole projection methods

      +1 for that, projecting the image is a much safer option.

    2. no-one in particular

      Re: Pinhole projection methods

      During the partial phases have a look around, there are so many things that work well for this - a favourite is dappled light from a tree or bush. Colanders and draining spoons also work well, as do wickerwork-chairs!

    3. Rich 11

      Re: Pinhole projection methods

      There are also ways of projecting an image of the sun onto a sheet of white card.

      Seconded. This worked a treat for the transit of Venus back in, um, was it about ten years ago now?

      Oh well. I may not be able to remember the date, but I remember the image. (A bit like some actual dates I've been on.)

  8. find users who cut cat tail

    When something is too bright to look at, then bloody don't! When it is not then you can keep looking. This stuff should not be that hard to figure out.

    If you are a moron that keeps looking directly into the sun despite it hurts because of magic glasses or something, you get what you deserve. And could you also jump from the root of the nearest building while you are at it? I installed magical air around the walls that will slow you down.

    1. Just Enough

      How nice.

      Are you calling Isaac Newton and Galileo morons?

      People do things that hurt all the time, because they think it's only temporary. In this case, they'd be wrong. But I wouldn't say they'd deserve blinding because of that mistake.

      1. Dave 126

        Re: How nice.

        Didn't Newton also stick a needle between his eyeball and eyelid?

        We need a Jackass-style 'dont try this at home' notice.

    2. Brangdon

      Re: despite it hurts

      It doesn't hurt. That's the point of these warnings. The retina doesn't have pain nerves and doesn't signal when it is being damaged. Hence you can damage your eyes without realising it. It's easy to do if you become fascinated by what you are seeing. These warnings are necessary because the danger is not obvious. I only wish they'd take the time to explain why the danger is not obvious; then people might not be so complacent.

      1. no-one in particular

        Re: despite it hurts

        Brangdon

        Absolutely.

        And it is a lot easier to stare at the partially eclipsed Sun without the immediate "gosh, that's bright, squint, look away" reaction, which makes it more tempting. But it is still just as damaging until it reaches Totality.

      2. Mark 85

        Re: despite it hurts

        I only wish they'd take the time to explain why the danger is not obvious; then people might not be so complacent.

        Given what and the way schools teach today, the younger group (those under 40) wouldn't understand it anyway.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "When something is too bright to look at, then bloody don't! When it is not then you can keep looking. This stuff should not be that hard to figure out."

      Lots of people have grown up over recent years who have been completely protected from all risks and live on the assumption that the planet earth is humanities birthplace and is therefore completely child friendly. Staring at the sun must be safe because there's no warning printed on it telling them otherwise.

      1. TheElder

        planet earth is humanities birthplace and is therefore completely child friendly

        We All DIE™

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Two things to note:

      1) A partial eclipse less bright than the normal sun, and so it's easier to look at without it hurting. The problem is that your iris opens up, and allows more non-visible light in, which damages your retina (mentioned above - the retina doesn't feel pain).

      2) The article is referring to devices that give the impression of protection - ie dimming the visible light but not necessarily dimming the rest of the spectrum. Again, made worse because the eye reacts to the brightness of visible light and thinks everything is fine.

      1. katgod

        two things and more

        Yes dimming visible light is only part of the solution make sure you are blocking UV which you can not see as this will also do major damage to your eye.

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        How to explain to computer "engineers" ... In an eclipse (without clouds), every pixel of the sun that is exposed is just as bright as the sun normally is. Therefore it delivers the same burning power onto the corresponding coordinates of your retina. The other factor is that when overall light is dimmer, your eye iris opens wider and lets more light in, so, even worse. A triple threat is that your eye opens wider to look at something interesting.

        So as soon as one tiny piece of sun peeks through a break in the wall of a moon crater ("Bailey's Beads"), sniff for that distinctive odor of roasting eye meat.

        But don't you look at the sun normally every day anyway? Um, no. You don't look AT the sun. You look towards it, but not at it. Or else you have crispy black patches burned into the back walls of your eyeballs.

    5. Kernel

      "If you are a moron that keeps looking directly into the sun despite it hurts because of magic glasses or something, you get what you deserve."

      So you've never worked with infrared lasers then.

  9. nathanm

    When I was a kid...

    ...I used to stare at the sun sometimes. My eyesight is perfect. Am I a superhero?

    1. teknopaul

      Re: When I was a kid...

      "When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so when I was six I did... " from the film Pi, you might end up knowing the true name of god.

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: When I was a kid...

      Same here, and my eyesight is still better than most people my age. Of course, I'd have a blind spot for five-ten minutes afterwards, but it always went away quickly for me.

      It's safe to look at the sun for a few seconds, but I guess that's a bit too subtle a message to tell most people so they stick to "just don't look at the sun at all".

      On a similar note, did anyone else used to press their knuckles into their closed eyes near their nose? It pushes on the optic nerve and you get great hallucinations. It does start to hurt after a minute or two though.

      1. DropBear
        Mushroom

        Re: When I was a kid...

        Exactly! Clearly nobody should stare unflinchingly at the Sun hours at a time, but seriously, cut all that ululating already! You make it sound as if nobody ever would have even glanced at it briefly and any who did went on to live in darkness forevermore. It's there, in the sky, okay? And you know that because you've seen it up there yourself, innit? With your own little eyes? Looking straight at it occasionally? Well then, shut it already! Use protection, don't stare, END OF!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When I was a kid...

        On a similar note, did anyone else used to press their knuckles into their closed eyes near their nose? It pushes on the optic nerve and you get great hallucinations. It does start to hurt after a minute or two though.

        No, but that does sound more fun than what we used to do - wrap a sock around your neck and pull until you become unconscious.

        1. Turnip McFondleballs
          Gimp

          Re: When I was a kid...

          No, but that does sound more fun than what we used to do - wrap a sock around your neck and pull until you become unconscious

          You were remembering to masturbate whilst you did this weren't you?

    3. Rich 11

      Re: When I was a kid...

      Am I a superhero?

      Only if the light from Earth's yellow sun also powers up your laser-beaming eyes.

    4. katgod

      Re: When I was a kid...

      I suspect that you are more likely a liar, but if your not then you truly are a superhero although without any other cool abilities you are a lesser superhero.

    5. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: When I was a kid...

      Your eyesight isn't perfect. You have a substantial blind spot in each eye, that you don't notice. In fact, everyone has.

      You get used to the eyesight you've got. There are cases of people virtually blind who believe that because they practise "eye exercises" they don't need eye tests or spectacles.

  10. John Sager

    I've got two different types. One is cardboard glasses with a plastic filter. They have a CE mark & say 'tested at Durham University'. The other is a rectangular filter with both ISO and CE marks, and says 'Meets the requirements of ISO 12312-2-2015 and EC directive 89/686/EEC'. Both give me a dull orange disc viewing the sun, with no fuzziness. Both were bought from Amazon UK.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've got two different types. One is cardboard glasses with a plastic filter. They have a CE mark & say 'tested at Durham University'. The other is a rectangular filter with both ISO and CE marks, and says 'Meets the requirements of ISO 12312-2-2015 and EC directive 89/686/EEC'.

      Avoid the first pair. It's well known that the sun is not visible from the British Isles [Invisible Sun, 1981], so they probably aren't sufficient.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looking at a map of the path of totality, I'm guessing that quite a few of the locals would have already blinded themselves with excessive moonshine consumption.

  12. Andy The Hat Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Actually no ...

    "Isaac Newton and Galileo both wrecked their retinas by examining the Sun,"

    Doh!

    Galileo actually ended up with cataracts in his old age. Although it is possible, there's no evidence that his eyesight was damaged as a result of his solar observations at all.

    Newton looked at the sun as part of a deliberate 'afterimage' experiment (self experimentation was one of his things) and his sight was temporarily affected but gradually returned over time.

    And you can easily get shade 13 welding glass - even Amazon.co.uk sellers list it.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Actually no ...

      If you can borrow an automatic welding helmet you an set the fiiltration effect from about 10 to 14 on a lot of them, works well too .

  13. DNDSM

    3.5" floppy disks used to work a treat

    It is a shame this tech is obsolete because all you had to do was slide back the cover of the good old 3.5" floppy and look through the platter. I watched the transit of Venus many years ago, a USB stick just doesn't provide the same functionality.

    1. Rich 11

      Re: 3.5" floppy disks used to work a treat

      I've got some platters from an old SCSI disk. Will those work too?

      Hell, I've just found a box of 3.5" disks! Laserstrike for Windows. Nah, I'm not going to break that one up. Never know when it might come in useful.

  14. Alistair
    Holmes

    Sadly I have bad news

    The wailing that goes on about not looking at full solar eclipse events is quite worthwhile. I've met a fellow who at the age of 8 was unaware of such things and watched an eclipse in his 'farmyard'. He's been completely blind since about 20 days later. There is no pain at all. There is no immediate after affect, save the nasty afterimages. The degeneration in his case came from the scar tissue the retina formed after the fact. Sadly, since he did not have access to current modern medicine, the damage was permanent. I'd venture to say that current medicine *might* be able to do something about that, but given that I love my kids, I'm sure as shit not about to have one of them try it out.

    1. Rich 11

      Re: Sadly I have bad news

      What about someone else's kid? Anyone got a spare one they don't need?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it helps

    The filters found on ebay pass too much infrared to be entirely safe.

    I found that the safest method is using indirect methods such as large HD outdoor screen with a filtered

    Web Cam as the viewer. Burn out camera no biggie. Also using rotary filter and servo +Arduino from old dlp projector for h-alpha studies

  16. Cynic_999

    Can't see a lightbulb?

    I have looked at light bulbs with approved sun-viewing glasses, and the filament was easily visible through those glasses, albeit a dim green colour. Perhaps the author has never seen a tungsten filament bulb and was only considering the useless "energy saving" bulbs?

  17. Mark 85

    Curiousity and dead cats...

    I'm curious about something here... Why do the scientists feel the need to charter a plane, etc. and see the eclipse for a limited amount of time? I've seen the videos/films of certain telescopes that during the daylight hours track the sun with a black dot over the sun... everyday or at least most days. Is there some science viewpoint that I'm missing by this "fly up high and see it" by the scientific community?

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Curiousity and dead cats...

      - You can fly in the direction of the eclipse's path and make it last a bit longer.

      - More of the light spectrum reaches your telescope if you can cut down on the atmosphere.

      - You can observe changes in the upper atmosphere where most of the bad stuff from space hits it.

      - Most importantly, there are no crowds, drunks, curious cats, or long lines to the bathroom. The food is still bad.

      1. Mark 85

        Re: Curiousity and dead cats...

        Ok.. thanks. I was curious because as I recall there's a satellite pointed at the sun with the "black spot" basically recording non-stop. It might be that my memory is faulty and the satellite was never launched.

        1. no-one in particular

          Re: Curiousity and dead cats...

          Have a look at the SOHO satellite page - the view using the occulting disc is used to show the "space weather"

          https://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/spaceweather/

    2. John Sager

      Re: Curiousity and dead cats...

      It works in space, but not on the ground - too much glare from the atmosphere. Flying high also lets them see wavelengths that get blocked by the atmosphere, as well as extending the eclipse period by flying along inside the shadow.

  18. Vector
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for this!

    I was looking at eclipse glasses on Amazon today and my first thought was "how many of these just have the right numbers slapped on them without actually been tested?" My second thought was where to find an approved list. Now I have one!

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon