When the solar eclipse begins on Monday, Aug. 21, thousands across the Carolinas will be craning their necks to the sky to see it -- but some could be putting their eyesight at risk. According to NASA’s website, the eclipse will take place for most of the afternoon (about 3 hours) but for those lucky enough to be in the path of totality, complete darkness will last just a couple of minutes. The Charlotte region will see a partial eclipse starting at 1:12 p.m. and peaking at 2:41 p.m. Most places in North Carolina will see a partial eclipse of 90 percent totality or more.
As the dazzling show takes place, viewers must take care not to stare at the sun -- even if just a sliver is showing -- without proper eye protection, says Dr. Genevieve Brauning, a family medicine physician at Novant Health South Park Family Physicians. Here’s more advice from Dr. Brauning:
Q: What are some basics I need to know to prepare?
A: You need approved eclipse-viewing protection to view the eclipse. You CANNOT use regular sunglasses to protect you from eye damage during the eclipse. You should NOT view the eclipse through a reflection off a lake, pond or pool. You CANNOT safely view the eclipse through a camera. You need to use this protection from the very beginning but can remove protection during total eclipse and then resume protection immediately. Viewing a partial eclipse actually presents the most risk of damage to vision.
Q: What can happen when someone looks directly at the sun? Is there a safe time during the eclipse to look at the sun directly?
A: Looking directly at the sun even for just a glimpse during an eclipse can cause short-term and even permanent damage to your vision. It is important that people take the recommended precautions VERY seriously. The only safe time to view the eclipse without approved solar filters is while it is a total eclipse (2 minutes when the moon completely covers the sun).
Q. Please explain the science behind the danger here.
During the partial part of the eclipse, it will be dark outside and so your pupils will be dilated. This allows more light to come directly into your retina and damage it. Because the sun does not appear as bright as usual, you may feel comfortable looking at the partial eclipse without protection for a much longer time than you would actually look at the sun on a regular day.
Q: Is it safe to view from inside a building?
A: It is not safe to view the eclipse from indoors, through glass or windows, without wearing eye protection.
Q: Do you need to put glasses on as soon as the eclipse starts? Or just during the maximum eclipse?
A: Yes. You need to start using eye protection immediately.
Q: Is there a certain type or brand of eclipse-viewing glasses that you can recommend since there have been news reports in recent days that there have been some fake eclipse glasses put on the market that may not actually be safe?
A: NASA and American Astronomically Society have an approved list of vendors.
Q: Do you have advice for parents with small kids who play outdoors or have outdoor pets to keep them safe?
A: Children are at the highest risk for short-term and permanent eye damage from improper viewing of sun during an eclipse. Children should be kept indoors for the duration of the eclipse so that they do not accidentally look at the sun without protection. Children can safely view the eclipse with proper eye protection. Even brief viewing without approved protection can cause permanent vision loss.
Q: What are some good resources that you’ve found for viewing the eclipse for those who want to do additional reading?
A: Two great resources are NASA’s website and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.