Even during a solar eclipse, it’s not safe to look directly at the sun without proper eye-gear. One woman learned it the hard way.
It’s an old rumor that legendary astronomer Galileo became blind by directly looking at the sun through his telescope, which is absolutely false. Galileo became blind at the age of 72 due to a combination of cataracts and glaucoma. His blindness had nothing to do with his telescopic observations of the Sun a quarter of a century earlier, which were initially made only near sunrise and sunset, and later made by projection; in neither case could he have damaged his eyes.
But then why people are afraid to look at the sun directly?
Even during a solar eclipse where the sun’s view is blocked from the earth by the passing moon, it’s not safe to look directly at the sun without proper eye-gear. In August during the solar eclipse, NASA repeatedly advised everyone to wear eclipse specific glasses to enjoy the scene, but some people just didn’t follow the advice and looked at the eclipsing sun directly. According to a report from JAMA Ophthalmology — just six seconds of unprotected viewing can cause permanent damage.
The paper detailed that a woman in her 20s who looked directly at the sun without eye protection for around six seconds during the eclipse. She said her vision became blurry and distorted just a few hours later and that she started seeing a black spot when looking from her left eye. Three days after the eclipse, she went to an ophthalmologist in New York and subsequent eye exams showed that the eclipse has burned photoreceptors in both eyes and a lesion in her left. Now she has a permanent scar in her left eye’s retina and a permanent black spot in her field of vision.
"It remains to be seen whether the patient can recover any visual function from this region of disturbed photoreceptors in the future," the authors note in the case study.
There's no treatment for this type of damage but getting a good look at what exactly is affected in the eye after staring at the sun could help ophthalmologists better understand this condition. We’ will witness another total solar eclipse in 2024, so let this serve as a warning -- the sun is a dangerous ball of fire and you need eye protection if you're going to look at it, eclipse or not.