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2017 American Eclipse

You can see (but not look at) the 2017 American eclipse.

By now everyone knows there is going to be an eclipse on August 21, 2017.  While the Tacoma area is not on the path of totality-we are still going to get a good view. The last time a solar eclipse crossed the entire continental US was June 8th 1918.

*What is a solar eclipse? Why should I care?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon (that travels around the Earth) comes between the Earth (us) and the Sun (the big star that the Earth travels around). For a short while, in certain parts of the earth a HUGE shadow is cast on the Earth’s surface (moment of totality).  During this time the corona of the sun will be visible – this and other phenomena are reported to be an extraordinary sight – to the point that “eclipse chasers” travel around the world to view solar eclipses.

*But don’t look at the eclipse!

So I just told you how rare and cool a solar eclipse is but then I also told you not to look at it – why?  The sun is a star and stars are essentially the largest, most continuous, most violent thermonuclear explosions known in the universe.  So they are kind of a big deal.  On a normal day if you look at the sun it’s so bright that you naturally try to squint or evert your eyes. During an eclipse it is darker than normal so you do not have this natural tendency to shield your eyes from the sun…BUT the harmful UV rays are still present. These UV rays travel into your eyes and land on the Retina, the delicate neural tissue that lines the inside of our eyes. Common sense would lead us to believe that the damage occurs from “burning” the retina but the damage is actually created by a chemical cascade triggered by the solar rays  and you are left with permanent, irreversible vision loss.  The area of the retina that is destroyed (the Macula) is the region of the Retina devoted to your sharpest vision (like recognizing faces or seeing fine detail).  This is why older patients we see at Cascade Pacific Eyecare who have Macular Degeneration (ARMD) are so debilitated –  in ARMD the macula essentially disintegrates if treatment is not initiated.  Once this vision is gone, nothing can be done (as of 2017) to bring it back.

*So how do I see the Eclipse?

It’s 2017 – not 1918 so the answer to many questions is “Google it”, “Watch it on youtube” or “order it on Amazon” but there have been some reports of misinformation on the internet and phony eclipse glasses being sold on Amazon.  Plus there are people that are reading this post either Sunday night August 20th or early Monday morning August 21st. Remember even the bestest, priciest, most polarizedest sunglasses are NOT enough protection.

I think the answer is to make a pinhole camera like they did in 1918. Just this time with updated, readily available 2017 equipment.  My assistant and I  used 2 paper plates.  One plate is the “projector” the other plate serves as the “screen”. The greater the distance you have between the projector and the screen the larger an image of the eclipse you will have.

STEP 1) You need 2 PaperPlates, Tin Foil, A pin, Tape and Scissors.

File Aug 17, 11 40 26 AM.jpeg

STEP 2)  Cut a hole in 1 plate

File Aug 17, 11 40 08 AM

STEP 3) Tape a piece of tin foil over that hole.

File Aug 17, 11 39 50 AM

STEP 4)  Use the pin to make a pinhole in the tinfoil.

File Aug 17, 11 39 31 AM

STEP 5) Go outside, put the other plate (the screen) on the ground.

File Aug 17, 11 39 10 AM

STEP 6) Point the “projector plate” in your hand towards the sun, an image of the sun will be transmitted through the pinhole onto the “screen plate” on the ground.

File Aug 17, 11 38 30 AM

Just look at the image on the screen and not the sun and you will protect your eyes and vision.  Since you are outside you will experience all the cool natural phenomena associated with an eclipse – not to mention you just did a simple craft with your kids and shared a rare experience that will last a lifetime.

Unfortunately – with every solar eclipse there is an uptick in Solar Maculopathy.  My next post will discuss this condition…If after the eclipse you or a family member feel you may have diminished vision due to the eclipse please schedule an appointment for an evaluation with us at Tacoma Eye.  (Unfortunately there is no treatment for Solar Maculopathy but we can schedule you on a next available basis for an evaluation).

Thanks for reading and thanks to my assistant.


Dr. Meers