PACIFIC COUNTY — Communities in the “path of totality” are bracing themselves for a historic onslaught of visitors during the upcoming solar eclipse. Pacific and Clatsop county residents will be able to view a near-total eclipse without all of the chaos that’s expected further down the coast. However, they still need to prepare — experts say all eclipse-watchers need special glasses or a hand-held eclipse viewer to protect their eyes.
“Just like the old wives tales say, you don’t want to stare at the sun. It’s bad for your eyes,” Dr. Bruce Stebel, an optometrist with Coastal Eye Care said on July 31.
On Monday, August 21, the moon will move in front of the sun, causing one of the most highly-anticipated astronomical events in decades. Along the “Path of Totality,” a roughly 70-mile swath that goes from Oregon to North Carolina, the moon will fully cover the sun for about two and a half minutes at the peak of the two to three-hour-long event, according to NASA.
In Pacific County, the moon will cover 97 percent of the sun. A corona of light will remain visible around the moon, but the sky will still be dark enough that bright stars and planets may be visible for a few minutes if the sky is clear.
The only safe time to watch the eclipse without eye protection is during the “totality” — the brief phase where moon completely blocks out the sun. Since there won’t be a totality in Washington or Northern Oregon, there is no safe time to watch without eclipse glasses.
Stebel said the sun emits a lot of wavelengths of radiation that aren’t visible to the human eye. Some kinds of ultraviolet rays — which cause sunburns and wrinkles — are also bad for the eyes.
“UV-B is just a nasty little guy. It does a lot of damage,” Stebel said. The light is so powerful that it can pass through all of the layers of the eye, causing both short and long-term harm.
“It can cause scarring, swelling, photo-damage and something called solar retinopathy, a really nasty thing that leads to vision loss,” Stebel said. “The glasses help filter out that light and help dampen down the spectrum. That way, it doesn’t bleach your eye out, and you can actually see the eclipse.”
Eclipse-viewing devices have lenses that are so dark that hardly any light can filter through them. They essentially render the viewer blind, unless they are looking directly at the sun.
Regular sunglasses and homemade devices won’t cut it. According to NASA, it’s very important to buy glasses that are certified to “ISO 12312-2”. Currently, NASA has verified five manufacturers who are making glasses that meet this standard: American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.
Experts also warn that a lot of fly-by-night companies are selling glasses that don’t meet the international safety standard. Some may even falsely claim to be certified. Even really dark glasses can “absolutely” hurt you if they don’t offer the right level of protection, Stebel said.
“You can find a fake iPhone, you can find a fake Gucci purse, you can find fake glasses,” Stebel said. “If it was my eyes, or my family members, they’d be using certified glasses.”
Legitimate manufacturers will have certification information, the ISO icon and the manufacturer’s name and address on the packaging, according to NASA. Devices that are scratched, wrinkled, or older than three years old should not be used.
In a July 31 article about the glut of fake eclipse glasses, Space.com warned, “If you haven’t already gotten your viewing gear, you probably want to do so. It’s late enough in the game that some online stores can’t guarantee delivery until after Aug. 21. However, the glasses should still be available through a number of brick-and-mortar retailers.
The American Astronomical Society has created a comprehensive list of reputable vendors: eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters
Example of what to look for: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/safe_glasses_flyer.pdf