We are all very excited whenever there is an announcement for a solar eclipse. ,The news of a solar eclipse is a major cause of buzz. It is usually breaking news. From television stations to radio outlets and cyber platforms, it is all over. News of solar eclipses spread, with people looking forward to viewing them. But then, there is another note of caution meant for all. That is the warning that you should not look at a solar eclipse. It is even said that looking at a solar eclipse is worse than looking at the Sun itself. But how true is this?
Is looking at a solar eclipse worse than looking at the Sun?
Well, the answer to that is yes. This may sound counterintuitive to some. But the reality is often stranger than fiction sometimes. Staring at a solar eclipse is far more damaging than looking at the Sun. This is all a function of physics. The cause is the interaction of the physical factors at play during a solar eclipse, with your eyes.
How Does Looking At A Solar Eclipse Exactly Become Worse Than Looking At The Sun?
As hinted at earlier, this is going to sound strange to so many. Many will think that the Sun goes dark during an eclipse. They conclude that it is weird to state that looking at the darkened Sun can be worse. This is in comparison to looking at the normal sun shining in all its glory. But, by the time you finish this section, you will have a better understanding. Before proceeding, something important will be pointed out. The answer to the question is no. And that is for the brief period during the eclipse where there is full coverage of the Sun.
That said, the real danger occurs during a partial solar eclipse. Or the phase of a total eclipse where the totality is about to end. Those are the exact scenarios that make looking at a solar eclipse worse than taking a glimpse at the Sun. In the following subsections of this part of this piece, more will be discussed. How it all happens with relevant details and explanations.
During a solar eclipse, the Sun becomes covered. A massive proportion of the light that it produces is obstructed. When this happens, the pupils of your eyes react by dilating. This dilation is a result of the fact that the sky becomes dark. Your eyes try to adapt to the change in light intensity.
But there is what many are not aware of. The remaining fraction of the Sun that remains uncovered during the solar eclipse. This section remains very bright. If you happen to look at the Sun at that point, your eyes will be flooded with intense light. This can cause permanent eye damage. Remember that your eyes at this point already have fully-dilated eyes.
So, in a way, your eyes are already vulnerable to the sudden flow of high-energy light streaming from the Sun. This is exactly why it is a lot more dangerous to look at a solar eclipse in comparison with looking at the Sun. If you are looking at the Sun on a normal day without an eclipse occurring, it may not be a cause for an alarm.
Your pupils are already positioned in a way that permanent eye damage does not occur. Your eyes on a normal day looking at the Sun have enough time to adjust to the brightness of the Sun. That does not mean you should now start looking at the Sun. Because that also has its own consequences on your eyes too.
Why Looking At The Sun Does Not Usually Lead To Permanent Eye Damage
To stress again, looking at the Sun on a normal day with your naked eyes is not likely to lead to permanent eye damage. But looking at a solar eclipse with your unaided eyes can leave you blind forever. So, why is this so? The physiology of your eyes means is the reason. The eyes have the ability to adjust to changes in the intensity of light in the environment.
Due to dilation or contraction of the pupils, the amount of light entering your eyes is regulated. If you are in a brightly-lit environment, something happens in your eyes. Your pupils constrict to limit the flow of light rays into your eyes. But this happens under normal conditions. Your eyes actually have the time to adjust to the changes in the intensity of light in the environment.
That is not the case with a solar eclipse. That is why looking at a solar eclipse is more likely to lead to damage to your sense of vision. In a solar eclipse, you end up exposing your eyes for a prolonged period looking at the Sun. So when the Moon changes position and does not obstruct the surface of the Sun, you are unaware.
At that stage, your eyes have their pupils dilated. You are taken by surprise with a sudden flow of intense sunlight. The eyes are unprepared for. Even though this period of exposure can be mere seconds, it is enough to damage your eyes forever. Your eyes do not have the time to adjust. There are swift changes in the intensity of light. This is streaming from the hottest ball of gas in the Solar System and your eyes stand little chance.
Other Factors That Contribute To Eye Damage When Looking At A Solar Eclipse
In the sections above, a lot has been said about the intense light emanating from the Sun. The damage that can be done to the eyes during a solar eclipse is not due to the ultraviolet light alone. There are other factors that must be factored into the picture too. These include visible and infrared light. As for ultraviolet light, it is possible to neutralize them. This is by wearing adequate sunglasses or customized silver-coated films.
In fact, in some cases, certain windows are enough to neutralize ultraviolet light. But that is where it stops. These same barriers cannot neutralize visible and infrared light. As a result, infrared and visible light can permeate these barriers. When the intensity of these rays is enough, they can cause serious damage to your pupils. All this occurs when they are in the dilated state as you are looking at the Sun.
When this happens, your retina becomes damaged. The retina is like the background surface of the eye. Now, we know that what causes the real damage is not even the eclipse itself. What leads to the damage is waiting for a prolonged period of time. Many do this while waiting to witness the full glory of the solar eclipse.
You cannot feel any pain when the damage is being done to the retina. This is because there are no nerve endings for pain in the retina. Hence, the damage is going to occur and you will not even be aware. That is the wisdom behind the relentless warnings during solar eclipses. You should not view them with your normal sunglasses. It is because these everyday glasses cannot block out the rays. The rays that can wreak serious havoc on your retina can seep through.
There is nothing wrong or bad in watching the spectacular wonders of a solar eclipse. You have to do it well. That means you have to view only with the specialized eclipse glasses.
How To Protect Your Eyes From The Sun During Eclipses And On Normal Days
The same way the Sun can damage your skin if you do not use sunscreen, the Sun can damage your eyes. This is true if you do not use the proper sunglasses. As discussed earlier, damage from the ultraviolet radiation passes through the pupil. It goes right across to the retina. Since the retina via the optic nerve is the passage of signal from the eye to the brain, blind spots can result. Whether the blind spots are going to be short-term or long-term will depend on the level of the damage.
There are steps that you can take to protect your eyes from the Sun whether on a normal day or during an eclipse. These tips are as follows:
- Always avoid looking straight at the Sun with your naked eyes. This applies at all times. Staring at the Sun on a normal day or during an eclipse is not a good idea at all.
- If you have to look at the Sun for whatever reason, make use of the proper eye protection.
- If you are going to enjoy the wonders of a solar eclipse, never do so without the approve sunglasses. These special sunglasses are designed in a unique way. They allow you to observe the eclipse without you getting your eyes damaged for life in the process.
- After watching a solar eclipse, you should visit an eye specialist. This is applicable even if you have used the protective wear. This is to ensure all is in order with your eyes.