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With scammers selling phony eclipse glasses, here are ways to experience the coming eclipse and keep your eyes safe


The sun’s corona as seen during the July 1991 total eclipse — photo courtesy of NASA

No major public event is complete without scammers trying to make money from it. Next week’s solar eclipse is no exception.

Amazon has pulled pages by vendors it suspects were selling fake solar-filter glasses that were advertised as making it safe to look directly at the eclipse, The Verge reported.

Staring at an eclipse without the proper solar filter can cause severe eye damage. Eclipse glasses with the right solar filters block out all but 1/100,000th of the sun’s light. Most sunglasses, by contrast, only block about 50 percent of the sun’s light.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), working with NASA, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the National Science Foundation, has compiled a list of “reputable vendors of solar filter and viewers.” Anyone who has purchased glasses or other filters to view the eclipse should check the name of the manufacturer to see if it on the list.

“I’m not surprised, but I am horrified,” Professor Thomas Levenson of MIT replied when told about the fake eclipse glasses. “This is the first total eclipse to pass over big, populated stretches of the United States since eclipses became a mass tourism phenomena. My guess is we’re seeing a lot of people become aware there’s money to be made off a solar eclipse for the first time, and that kind of realization always brings out cheats, swindlers and scoundrels.”

Levenson is the director of MIT’s graduate program in science writing, and the writer and producer of Eclipse of the Century, a PBS documentary on the total eclipse that Hawaii experienced in July 1991.

He recommends making the trip to a location where the eclipse will be total.

“There really is no comparison between a partial eclipse and totality,” Levenson said. “If you get in deep into the eclipse, 90 percent or more, as you’re going to have in Iowa City, things do get uncanny. The light changes, ordinary colors change in ways we’re not used to. It’s weird, it seems to portend something sort of threatening, but you never lose daylight altogether.”

“Totality takes the world you thought you knew and, for a few minutes, substitutes something utterly different for it. The shift is enormous. The sky goes dark, you see stars. You see the [sun’s] corona, the solar atmosphere — that’s one thing unique to totality.”

The corona is the sun’s outer atmosphere, which is only visible to the unaided eye during a total eclipse. Levenson describes it as “an ethereal vail spread out around the moon as it blocks the sun.”

“Even the most spectacular photographs of an eclipse don’t actually capture the beauty of the corona, and the strangeness of it,” Levenson said. “When the last little sliver of the sun disappears behind the moon, the corona flashes out. Some people cheer, some applaud and some just gasp, but everyone who sees it is effected by it.”

The corona won’t be visible locally, but at the height of the partial eclipse more than 90 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. According to the University of Iowa Sciences Library, the partial eclipse will begin at 11:46 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 21, and last for 2 hours and 51 minutes. Maximum eclipse will occur at 1:12 p.m.

The Iowa City Public Library and the Cedar Rapids Public Library are holding eclipse viewing parties, and the University of Iowa is setting up two public viewing stations, at the Pentacrest and in the courtyard in front of the Sciences Library. All of these events will have eclipse glasses available, supplied by an AAS-endorsed vendor, so the eclipse may be viewed in safety.


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