The upcoming nationwide solar eclipse on Aug. 21 has initiated a surge in demand for solar-protective eyewear in the U.S. -- but products on the internet aimed at filling that demand may be robbing people blind in more than one way.
Richard Fienberg, press officer for the American Astrological Society, said that the 2017 coast-to-coast eclipse spanning from Oregon to South Carolina could well be the most-watched total solar eclipse of all time. Consequently, some suppliers' stores of ISO-compliant glasses and solar viewers are already depleted more than one week before the actual eclipse, according to Reuters.
Proper protective solar eyewear designed for looking at an eclipse should be certified with the International Standardization Organization's label that ensures it complies with the ISO 12312-2 standard. However, counterfeit glasses that are not specially suited for looking at the sun have been incorrectly sporting the ISO label and claiming false safety tests, misleading customers into buying potentially dangerous products.
"It's a bunch of unscrupulous people cashing in on the eclipse and putting public safety at risk," said Fienberg of the counterfeit products still available on the market.
An article by Forbes notes that looking directly at the sun without adequate filtration can lead to solar retinopathy, damaging the photo-receptor cells in the retina. Damaged cells can take three to six months to heal. Other cells may not heal at all, leaving blind spots in a person's field of vision.
The AAS, NASA, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Optometry and the National Science Foundation have released guidelines to keep your eyes safe while viewing the eclipse.
The guidelines caution never to make homemade sunglasses, which according to scientists let in thousands of times too much light. They also urge the importance of making sure that telescopes, binoculars, and other viewing devices be equipped with their own solar filters even if you are wearing solar-filtered glasses, since looking into an unfiltered lens magnifies the sun's intensity.
The AAS has also released a list of reputable companies to purchase solar filters and viewers.
According to Canadian optometrist B. Ralph Chou, who helped develop worldwide solar optics standards, solar lenses should screen out 250,000 times more light than the naked eye would normally see, Reuters reports. To test whether solar protective glasses are truly suitable for eclipse-viewing, any light sources dimmer than the sun should appear pitch black.
Despite the high-demand of solar filters online, there are still places to find them for free.
Over 2 million true ISO-certified eclipse glasses were distributed to 6,900 libraries across the U.S. via the Space Science Institute's STAR_Net initiative, which was funded by NASA, Google, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The list of libraries carrying the glasses can be found on STAR_Net's website.
NASA will also be giving away 1.5 million glasses at any of its eclipse-viewing spots around the country. Astronomers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that sponsors astronomy-related programs in the U.S. and abroad, will also sending viewing glasses to any group willing to cover the cost of shipping.
Though 2017's total eclipse will be the first to span the entire U.S. in 99 years, those who are not able to get their hands on safe eclipse-viewing equipment before Aug. 21 will not have to wait nearly as long before getting another opportunity. Reuters reports that North America will have another solar eclipse in 2024.