Eye health experts are warning of the dangers of staring directly at the sun, ahead of a solar eclipse this Friday (March 20).
The eclipse will be visible across the UK but the Isle of Lewis, off the coast of Scotland, is predicted see around 98% of the sun blocked by the moon. The rest of the UK may see anywhere from 80–99% coverage of the sun, with London expected to see around 85% coverage. The last solar eclipse to be visible from the UK was in 1999, with the best view in Devon and Cornwall.
Thousands of people are expected to flock to Scotland this Friday for the celestial spectacle, which will see the moon cross the sun’s path, blocking its light for a period. But experts are warning that the event could leave viewers with more than just a crick in their neck.
Eye health organisations are reminding people of the dangers of sun exposure to the eyes, and warning of the dangers of long-term damage which could be caused by using binoculars, telescopes and cameras to view the sun directly.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, told Sky News: “The general public must remember that they should not look directly at the sun or at a solar eclipse, either with the naked eye, even if dark filters such as sunglasses or photographic negatives are used, nor through optical equipment such as cameras, binoculars or telescopes.”
They added: “Particular care should be taken with children. Children should not be allowed to look directly at the Sun at any time."
The AOP’s head of professional development, Karen Sparrow, commented: “It’s important for the public not to lose sight of their eyes during Friday’s eclipse. Looking at the sun directly can cause permanent damage to your eyesight.
Ms Sparrow added: “You only have to think about how a camera works to see the impact. Without the correct filter, pointing a camera at the eclipse can damage the electronics – so just imagine what it can do to your eyes. To take photos of the sun without damaging your camera, you will need to use a solar filter recommended by your camera manufacturer.”
The effect of an eclipse reduces the intensity of the sun’s light, and can reduce the observer’s natural reactions, blinking, squinting and pupil constriction. Cases of solar retinopathy – in which the sun damages the photoreceptors of the retina – have been recorded after previous eclipse events. One of the most infamous cases of sun damage on the eye is Sir Isaac Newton, who reportedly almost lost his sight for days after observing the sun using a mirror.
The only safe way to view the sun is indirectly, using a pinhole projector. It is unclear if the weather will be clear enough to see the eclipse in the UK, but the Met Office has created a dedicated webpage for eclipse watchers to check the forecast ahead of the event.
The AOP's Karen Sparrow offers some safety tips on how to view the eclipse: