How to Help Kids Safely Watch a Solar Eclipse

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States and Canada. However, experts want to remind everyone not to look directly at the eclipse.

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth and as a result, the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching Earth. During a total solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow onto Earth and the sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk. It’s truly a spectacular sight. 

Why can't you look directly at a solar eclipse?

Hawke Yoon, MD, Attending Physician for Ophthalmology at Lurie Children’s warns, "The direct light energy from looking directly at the sun for more than a moment will "burn" the retina inside of your eyes and can cause permanent scarring and vision loss." The retina’s role in the eye is to receive light that the lens has focused on, convert the light into neural signals and send signals on to the brain for visual recognition.

A retinal burn can be very dangerous and result in permanent disability. Dr. Yoon says, “With solar retinopathy, the damage happens with a photochemical and thermal burn (i.e. temperature burn).” Dr. Yoon stresses that while there are many factors involved with how much damage is possible even just looking directly at the solar eclipse for a few seconds can cause damage to the eyes.

How can you safely watch a solar eclipse?

The problem with the solar eclipse is that there's an actual event that makes people want to look for an extended time. “If you want to look at the solar eclipse, you need to wear appropriate protection – special eyeglasses,” says Yoon. “These are glasses that filter or block the harmful wavelengths or light emitted from the solar eclipse that will damage your eyes. Regular sunglasses and eclipse glasses are not the same!” 

Learn more about the upcoming solar eclipse at NASA.gov.

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