Health Care

Avoid fake eclipse glasses if you want to see after Aug. 21

Put on your eclipse glasses. Can you see anything, anything at all?

If you can, then they are fake, and you will damage your eyes as you watch the moon move in front of the sun on Aug. 21.

“If you look through them and you see any light, they’re not strong enough,” said Dr. Justin Marsh, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

That’s also the latest advisory from the American Astronomical Society, which has been updating consumers about the gear needed to safely watch the eclipse and about the phony stuff to avoid.

Safe eclipse glasses carry certification credentials printed on the inside of the cardboard ear piece. It shows they meet ISO 12312-2, according to NASA’s website on viewing the eclipse safely.

“When the first round of fake glasses came on they didn’t have the ISO number, so you were sure they were a problem,” said Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Speck serves as co-chair of the American Astronomical Society Solar Eclipse Task Force. She has been giving talks and handing out safe eclipse glasses in preparation for the big day. And, she has watched the scammers adapt.

“They started catching on and said, ‘We need to put the ISO number on,’” Speck said. “So they do that.”

Looking directly at the sun without the proper protection will damage your eyes. Marsh said the portion of the retina that is used for “central vision,” or focusing on something up close, is particularly vulnerable.

The briefest glance at the sun can inflict permanent harm, and there’s not much doctors can do.

“There’s no real treatment,” Marsh said. “So if there is damage, it’s done, and you just sort of have to wait and watch if there’s going to be improvement.”

Marsh said certified, authentic eclipse glasses should work for any age, but children should be supervised to ensure they use them.

In the Kansas City area, the eclipse will not be complete enough to ever watch without the glasses, Marsh said. Farther north, in St. Joseph, there may be a minute or two when glasses won’t be needed, but even then Marsh advised taking great care to put the glasses back on promptly before the sun begins to move into view again.

NASA recommends eclipse glasses made by any of five manufactures that have met its review process, and these makers include their names and contact information on the glasses. The American Astronomical Society has listed retailers it said offer safe glasses, including Walmart, Lowe’s and Circle K.

Much of the scrutiny about fakes has hit online sales of eclipse glasses.

The website Quartz checked out eclipse glasses it found at Amazon.com, including a pair marked as made by American Paper Optics. It learned that the company had squared off the curve in the earpiece, meaning the APO pair Quartz bought online, which had rounded off curves, was fake.

Which brings Speck back to the practical test.

A mere sliver of the sun, the last few specks of light called “Baily’s Beads” or the final “diamond ring” image that disappears just before the total eclipse are too much.

Even these moments require eclipse glasses so nearly opaque that they allow only 1 millionth of the Sun’s light to reach the wearer’s eye, Speck said.

She has tested legitimate glasses against an extremely bright spotlight during a Girl Scout event at Stephens College in Columbia. She barely saw it.

Speck tested eclipse glasses against her eye-damaging laser pointer and none of the light shined through to the other side.

Another safety tip is to get your eclipse glasses from a science museum or planetarium, astronomy trade show, university astronomy departments and similar groups that take pains to secure proper eclipse glasses.

Science City and the Arvin Gotleib Planetarium at Union Station are selling safe eclipse glasses, said Jeff Rosenblatt, director of exhibits at Science City and director of the planetarium. It will provide free eclipse glasses as part of its ticketed Aug. 21 program and a pop-up event at City Market.

Speck said she has seen others offer safe eclipse glasses. Schlafly Beer, for example, included safe eclipse glasses with its Path of Totality beer packs.

“I know where they got them from,” Speck said.

Even safe eclipse glasses can hurt – financially. As eclipse day approaches, supplies have begun to run short. Walmart on Blackbob Road in Olathe was out on Wednesday.

And prices have gone up.

A 10-pack of Soluna Solar Eclipse Glasses sold on Amazon for $16.95 on July 22. As of Aug. 2, the price had gone up to $24.45.

That’s $2.45 a pair, high but not unreasonable, said Speck, adding that the Mizzou bookstore is selling eclipse glasses at $1.49 a pair. A pair purchased at the Hy-Vee in Shawnee, Kan., cost $2.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar

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