Why You Shouldn't Stare At The Sun (But Might Be Tempted)

Aug 21, 2017

For the first time in nearly 100 years, there will be a coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States. The moon will move between the sun and Earth, totally blocking the sunlight for people on the "path of totality."

The total eclipse will only be visible a 70 mile wide strip stretching across the country, appearing first in Oregon and eventually reaching South Carolina. In Milwaukee, the partial eclipse will cover about 86% of the sun. But even with just a bit of the sun in view, the eclipse can be a monumentally disastrous event for your eyes and there can be a unique temptation to stare at it with the naked eye. 

NPR Live Blog: Total Solar Eclipse Crosses The U.S.

"When there's not an eclipse, usually the intensity is so strong and so uncomfortable you'll blink or close your eyes or turn away," explains Dr. Thomas Connor Jr., a professor of ophthalmology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a retina specialist at the Eye Institute. 

He continues, "When there's an eclipse, the intensity of the brightness has been reduced, but unfortunately the potentially damaging area is still present so you actually, physically can stare longer during an eclipse than you would normally be able to do without one present." 

Solar filters are necessary for those intending to view the solar eclipse, such as eclipse glasses or welding masks that have the proper protection for solar viewing. Watching it indirectly through a pinhole projector or other devices is another option. 

"Just that little sliver will still let enough ultra violet radiation through that could damage you if you looked at it unprotected," says Connor. "Now I'm not talking about, 'Boy, I took a quick glimpse as I was walking to my car,' or moving from one building to another. No, that's not going to cause the problem. It's when folks are staring at it."