For the first time in nearly a century, on Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse of the sun will be visible in parts of the contiguous United States.
Depending on where you live, and provided the clouds don’t interfere, you will see the sun partially or, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the “path of totality,” completely disappear behind the moon. And you know what else you’ll see if you aren’t careful?
An eye doctor. That is, if you look up at the eclipse without protection or if you buy counterfeit viewing glasses.
To safely view this spectacular solar event, sunglasses won’t do — no matter how dark the lenses. You also shouldn’t use any other unfiltered devices, such as binoculars, cameras and telescopes. The eyewear or hand-held viewer you buy needs to have certified solar filters.
Both NASA and the Federal Trade Commission have issued consumer warnings urging people to be sure to purchase the right glasses.
“This rare event will be exciting and even better when you view the eclipse safely,” Alesha Hernandez, the FTC’s consumer education specialist, wrote in a blog post.
As you shop, look for glasses that are marked “ISO” followed by these numbers: 12312-2. This means they have met a certain international safety standard.
But the ISO label isn’t enough. Dishonest companies know people are being cautioned to look for that stamp of approval. They can easily copy it onto counterfeit glasses. As I browsed online, every seller promised that its glasses were “certified.”
So the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Eclipse Task Force has compiled a list of recommended vendors.
I’m not playing around with my eyes, and neither should you. This is not the time to skip doing your homework.
You’ll find a list of reputable vendors for solar filters and viewers at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.
Do not use damaged eyewear to view the eclipse. Return them for a replacement. Even glasses that are scratched or wrinkled should be avoided, according to NASA. The agency also cautions against using eclipse-viewing eyewear that is more than 3 years old.
If you’re going to be hardheaded and try to watch the eclipse unprotected, be forewarned: You could end up with severe retinal burns. The damage could be temporary or permanent.
It’s like “a magnifying glass on a leaf when you were a kid,” an optometrist told Angela Fritz, an atmospheric scientist and The Washington Post’s deputy weather editor. Read her report on what happened to people who watch a solar eclipse without special glasses (http://wapo.st/2ugAJop).
Be careful. And don’t let the scammers ruin your excitement during this epic celestial event.