spaceSpace and Physics

This Is Why You Should Never, Ever Stare Directly At A Solar Eclipse


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Don’t look at the Sun. Like, really. In any circumstance. Even when it looks like the Moon is blocking it during an eclipse, because it can still do significant damage as new images dramatically reveal.

Published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, these pictures show what happened to a woman in her 20s who viewed this year’s total solar eclipse in the US without glasses. The results aren’t great.


“During the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, a woman in her 20s viewed the solar rim several times for approximately 6 seconds without protective glasses and then again for approximately 15 to 20 seconds with a pair of eclipse glasses,” the researchers from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE) and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai write.

She viewed the eclipse with both eyes open, but was not in the path of totality, so she did some serious hours to her eyes. Three days later, she went to the doctor and reported problems with her vision – diagnosed as solar retinopathy, a retinal injury from looking at the Sun.

JAMA Ophthalmology and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai

Four hours after looking directly at the Sun, the woman said she noticed that her vision was blurred, and also noted that lines were appearing in her field of view. This is known as metamorphopsia. In her left eye, she noticed a central black spot.

Using adaptive optics imaging, the doctors examined the retinal damage on her eyes. They found she had burned a hole in her retinas, which has no currently accepted treatment. This did provide an opportunity to study this type of damage though, which may one day lead to a treatment.

JAMA Ophthalmology and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai

"We have never seen the cellular damage from an eclipse because this event rarely happens and we haven't had this type of advanced technology to examine solar retinopathy until recently," said lead investigator Avnish Deobhakta from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in a statement.

"We have seen cases of similar type injuries when patients have accidentally looked directly at laser pointers, but nothing as severe as this case for eclipse-related damage, and certainly never as precisely as the images that we were able to obtain," Deobhakta added to IFLScience.

The team hopes that this study can help doctors prepare for the next American eclipse in 2024, which will pass through a number of states. It should serve as a reminder, though, that you should never look directly at the Sun, and only do so with solar eclipse glasses.


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