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Published on August 18, 2017

Little Girl Watching the Solar Eclipse

Total Eclipse Will Be Awe-Inspiring, But Don’t Let it Damage Your Eyes

Millions of people around the nation will step outside Monday, Aug. 21 for an amazing astronomical event: a total solar eclipse, the first one visible in the continental United States in 38 years.

For centuries, humans have looked upon eclipses as the uncanny events they are, and the awe of seeing the sun blocked out continues to bring wonder to us all. If you’re fired up to see it, remember that you’ll need to protect your eyes, no matter where you live.

Avera optometrist Gregory Hill, OD, said that while darkened for a few minutes, the sun will still emit tremendous radiation, enough that could hurt your eyes if you don’t use specially made sunglasses to protect your retinas.

“On any normal day, our instincts prevent us from looking directly into the sun because it’s so bright – your instincts kick in and you look away,” he said. “Now during the upcoming eclipse, we can look at it, but we should not, because it’s just as intense and the ultraviolet rays and infrared radiation, which you cannot see or feel, will damage your eyes if you look without protection.”

Hill suggested the protection needed is much like the visor on a welder’s helmet.

“You’ll find a lot of stores selling ‘eclipse glasses’ which are a must if you wish to view this unique event,” Hill said. “Do not go into it thinking your sunglasses will be enough – they may shield you from some of the sun’s radiation, but not the energy that can damage your eyes.”

The retina of the eye would be damaged if you were to look at the eclipse without protection. Hill said it’s the “camera film” of the eye and that looking at this solar event without protection would be much like focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass onto a piece of paper: it will burn the tender surface of your retina.

“It happens within seconds, so get those eclipse glasses and wear them throughout your viewing of it,” he said. “The longer the unprotected exposure, the more damage can occur. If it does occur the damage could be permanent and leave a scar on the retina that would create a dead area in your vision.”

More people than ever before are aware of this eclipse, and so Hill and his colleagues are hoping that with the masses of folks looking up, all will do so safely.

“You’ll notice an afterimage and scratchy, irritated eyes if you do not use protective glasses,” he said. “If you experience these feelings, go to a doctor right away so vision tests can be done. This will be a super-cool thing to see, but don’t do so without the proper protection.”

Hill added that while some areas which have a nearly 100-percent eclipse (such as Lincoln, Neb.) will have a few moments when looking at the sun would be OK – don’t risk it. Get those glasses and leave them on throughout the eclipse.

“There’s an excitement that we feel instinctively when we see phenomena like this, so plan ahead to be protected – not just for your own vision, but for your whole family,” he said. “Don’t let the darkness of the eclipse trick you into looking at it without proper eye protection, please.”

Some Fast Facts on the Eclipse 2017

In North America, the last total solar eclipse was Feb. 26, 1979, the next total solar eclipse, after Aug. 21, will occur in 2024.

The pathway of the total solar eclipse will enter the United States in Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Pacific Time, and leave South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. Eastern Time.

NASA maps show the following amounts of total solar eclipse at roughly 1 p.m. Central Time:

  • Lincoln, Neb., almost 100 percent
  • Omaha, 98 percent
  • Rapid City, S.D., 96 percent
  • Sioux City, Iowa, 95 percent
  • Sioux Falls, 92 percent

A partial solar eclipse will be visible within a 1,000-mile band as it travels across the continent; everyone in the U.S. will witness at least a 50 percent eclipse.

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