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The dos and don’ts of viewing the solar eclipse

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On Friday 20 March a solar eclipse will take place, blocking out about 90% of the sun, putting much of the UK into the shadows. For many, this will be the first time they have witnessed such a phenomenon, the last time being 15 years ago. It is expected to be a spectacular sight – but it also has the potential to cause blindness.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) are urging everyone to exercise caution and are highlighting the dangers of looking directly at the sun during the eclipse.

Dr Jackie McCall, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, said: “Whilst a solar eclipse is an amazing and infrequent event, the public must remember that looking directly at the sun can lead to retinal burns and permanent loss of sight. Looking directly at the eclipse is the same. An eclipse is a relatively slow process, so people might end up accidentally looking at the sun for minutes.”

The advice is to be careful and to follow these steps:

  • never look at the sun with the naked eye;
  • the eclipse should NOT be viewed through a camera lens, binoculars, or a telescope;
  • it should not be viewed through smoked glass, stacked sunglasses, polarised shades or photographic filters;
  • do not try to take a ‘selfie’ – it could potentially put you at risk as you may end up accidentally looking directly at the sun while aligning yourself and your phone.
  • observe children, they should not be allowed to look directly at the sun at any time.”

The Royal Astronomical Society has issued information on the safest ways to view the eclipse. They include using a pinhole camera to project an image of the eclipse on to a piece of card. Other options involve using colanders to make multiple pinholes or using specifically-designed eclipse viewing glasses. More information is available on their website.

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