National Geographic describes how various cultures throughout history have sought to explain what we know today as an eclipse: Many believed eclipses to be “a time when demons or animals consumed the sun or the moon.” To stop these celestial bodies from being eaten before their eyes, people played drums, banged on pots and did anything they could to make enough noise to scare away the cosmic-crunching monsters.
Today, our biggest concern about solar eclipses should be preserving the health of our eyes.
While a 70-mile-wide swath of the continental U.S. — from Oregon to South Carolina — will experience a total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, here in San Diego the moon will obscure just 57 percent of the sun. Still, many San Diegans will be tempted to look at the phenomenon as it occurs, and without proper protection, just a quick glance could be damaging to one’s sight.
“Without proper eye protection,” says Dr. Tam, “you can suffer ‘solar retinopathy’ — a serious injury in which the eye’s retina is damaged by solar radiation. While most victims are only blinded temporarily, other cases can cause permanent loss of vision.”
Luckily, there is a simple solution.
“Look for glasses or handheld solar viewers bearing the designation ISO 12312-2, along with the manufacturer’s name and address to make sure they are compliant and meet international safety standards. Avoid solar glasses that are more than 3 years old and those with scratched or wrinkled lenses. There are many counterfeit products out there, so people should be careful and diligent. Also, always supervise children using solar filters.”
Because there are several brands of “eclipse glasses” on the market that do not provide sufficient protection, people are advised to refer to websites like the American Astronomical Society, where you can find lists of verified viewers, as well as retail stores and online vendors selling them. Right here in San Diego, you can buy glasses at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park before or on the day of the eclipse, or make your own pinhole camera or camera obscura device.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun stuff going on at the Fleet for the eclipse,” says Dr. Steve Snyder, CEO of the Fleet Science Center. “On the morning of the event, we’re inviting everybody to come join us in the plaza to watch it with us. Our resident astronomer will be out to answer any eclipse-related questions, and we’ll have a livestream broadcast from the path of totality showing in our Giant Dome Theater.”
Starting just after 9 am, San Diegans will see the moon start to move across the sun, says Snyder. The world will get noticeably darker as more and more of the sun is covered.
“During the eclipse, take the time to look at the world around you,” he says. “Watch the shadows of the trees for projections of the eclipse. See if you can feel the change in temperature as the moon begins to block the sun. Listen to the sounds around you as the natural world reacts to this event. This is an event for all of your senses.”
Maximum coverage occurs at 10:23 am and the end of the eclipse for us in San Diego will be at 11:46 am. The next total solar eclipse in North America won’t happen again until 2024.
Participants — one assumes — should bring their own drums.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Tam about eye protection during the solar eclipse for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.