The solar eclipse in August is fast becoming one of the major leisure events of the year, maybe even the decade.
It seems that nearly every venue of size in South Carolina is planning a viewing event. Orangeburg, one of only six locations in the state where the total blackout of the sun will be visible, is a prime site.
The partial phase of the eclipse is expected to begin around 1:14 p.m. with the sun to be totally blacked out at 2:43 p.m.
Excitement is building.
And so is the concern. “Viewing” could leave many with permanent eye damage if appropriate caution is not taken.
The real worry is how many people will look at the sun on that day in the varying stages of diminishing sunlight. If they do so without appropriate eye protection, it will result in eye damage.
And no matter how many warnings are sounded, it will be shocking how few people heed them or even know about the danger – or even know about the eclipse until daylight moves toward darkness during the day on Aug. 21.
Count us among those wanting people to enjoy the eclipse experience as sunlight being totally blocked by the position of the moon is a rare event.
And count us among those stunned by websites and so-called experts proclaiming the danger is being overblown. Their message is that people can look safely at the sun that day when the eclipse is total, which is accurate.
But viewing the eclipse without proper eye protection when the sun is partially blocked, right up to the point when the eclipse is nearing totality (even at 99 percent), will do damage to the human eye. If safety is not stressed, how many people will look without protection at varying stages because the everyday inability to look at the sun is not a factor for a period of up to two hours?
We worry many will.
Reporting for Space.com, Hanneke Weitering writes that eclipse blindness may not even be realized until the day after when people wake to discover their vision has become impaired.
While peripheral vision is usually spared, the center of vision is affected because that is the part of the retina responsible for seeing in high resolution and in color. Most patients are legally blind when they go to see an eye doctor.
Weitering reports the prognosis is nearly impossible to determine. About half will recover full vision in six months. The other half either partially recover or are stuck with the problem for the rest of their lives.
The key to seeing the eclipse will be to use approved glasses during the partial phase. When the sun is totally blocked, however, nothing will be visible with the glasses. That leaves people to decide whether they wish to gamble on totality, when viewing with the naked eye is OK.
Considering that one’s eyes are invaluable, it’s a decision each individual will have to make.
Eyewear for viewing the eclipse is not expensive and will be available at the many events. But, again, what about people having no glasses or not even being aware of what is happening until the eclipse is unfolding?
Eye professionals are likely to be busy in the days after Aug. 21.