No sunglasses, selfies or staring: How to look at the solar eclipse on March 20 without getting a "solar burn"

Catherine Neilan
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Solar eclipse: Don't look directly at it, even with sunglasses on (Source: Getty)

You might be tempted to line up a solar eclipse selfie this week – but experts have warned that doing so could put you at risk of causing serious damage to your eyes.

On the morning of March 20, we will see a near total eclipse – the best places to see it in the UK are Scotland and Northern England, but even in London we are expected to have a partial eclipse, meaning the sky will plunge into darkness for several minutes.
In London, the eclipse is expected to begin at 8.24am, peaking at 9.31am, and ending at 10.41am.
For observers in Edinburgh, the eclipse starts at 8.30am and peaks at 9.35 am.
It's a big deal in the scientific community: the last solar eclipse of such significance occurred on August 11 1999, and was “total” – with 100 per cent of the Sun covered – when seen from Cornwall.
But while the eclipse, when the moon comes between the sun and the earth, will lead to an eery darkness during the morning, the College of Optometrists is urging people not to look at the Sun directly, or through cameras and camera phones.
“Even if you are just lining up the project, this puts you at risk,” guidance issued today said.
Dr Susan Blakeney, the College of Optometrists’ Clinical Adviser, explained: “Witnessing a solar eclipse is a rare and amazing event which we’re sure many people will want to make the most of. We just want to make sure people do so safely, without putting their sight, many people’s most precious sense, at risk.
“You should never look directly at the sun and that applies when there’s a total or partial eclipse as well. This is because the radiation emitted by the sun is so powerful it may cause a solar burn of the retina.”

Here's how to look at a solar eclipse, according the College of Optometrists

  • Don’t look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses on – they don’t offer enough protection
  • Don’t watch it directly through a telescope, binoculars, camera or camera-phone. Even if you are just lining up the projection, this still puts you at risk
  • Use a pinhole projection method. This involves putting a hole in a piece of cardboard, and holding the cardboard up – with your back to the sun – so that an image of the sun is projected onto another piece of paper or card. This works well using a cardboard box, and will allow you to see the progress of the eclipse without damaging your eyes
  • Use glasses with specially-designed solar filters (bearing the appropriate CE mark) if you have to view the eclipse directly.

If you really need to watch the total eclipse, you could do worse than watch this Jaffa Cake advert from 1999 (and no, we can't believe it's that old either):

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