You think you’ll just take a quick look, a few seconds staring directly into the sun to see the solar eclipse. No need to bother with cardboard boxes or special glasses. 

It could be a decision you regret. 

The sun on any day is dangerous to look at directly. A solar eclipse is different only because people have reason to stare at the sun. 

Optometrist Trevor Fosso works at PineCone Vision Center in Sartell. As a self-declared nerd about astronomy, he’s excited about Monday’s eclipse and is already planning a camping trip for 2024, the next total solar eclipse in the U.S.  

“This is an amazing event that’s coming up, but we just want everyone to be careful,” he said. “We don’t want someone going blind from it.” 

What time is the eclipse where I live?

The sun’s energy is too much for the eye’s light receptors, Fosso said. 

“The energy of the light coming in is just too much energy to be absorbed, when you’re looking directly at the sun,” he said. “Basically, it’s like burning out a lightbulb.”

On any sunny day, burns can happen within seconds, Fosso said. 

And the damage is permanent. 

“The only way to stop it is preventing it in the first place,” Fosso said. “There’s no recovery from that, at all. There’s no treatment for when burns like that happen. … When we look in the back of the eye, we can actually see a change, like a physical burn on your skin.” 

He and other professionals have to walk the line between scaring the public too little or too much. 

“For most people there is a, ‘well, what is the big deal about it?’ But I know a  lot of my optometry colleagues and ophthalmologists, the American Optometric Association has been doing a lot of advertising about the dangerous parts,” Fosso said. “Making sure that everyone is safe, because we don’t want people flooding in with these issues.”

PineCone Vision Center ordered about 300 eclipse glasses to give out, first come, first served. Some of that education must have worked. 

“These last couple of days people have been flooding in, asking about the glasses, asking on Facebook,” Fosso said. 

Unfortunately, they ran out Thursday morning. 

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People will have to find a friend to share glasses, head to a public event including ones at local libraries where glasses can be shared, or make a viewer yourself. 

“Basically you get to watch the shadow, indirectly, of the eclipse occurring,” Fosso said. 

Don’t use your phone or camera. The intensity of the sun could burn out the camera and processors if you don’t have the right equipment.

Sunglasses are definitely out.

Even welding glasses, which block 99.9 percent of sunlight, aren’t enough to protect you, Fosso said. Eclipse glasses block 99.9996 percent of sunlight. That 0.0996 percent is enough to make the difference, Fosso said.

“Even that little amount can do severe damage to the retina,” Fosso said. 

Some people are planning to keep pets and children inside, because it’s hard to control where they look, Fosso said. 

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As for the PineCone Vision staff, one person snagged a pair before they ran out of glasses. 

“We have one pair that about all 30 of us are going to take turns sharing,” he said. 

Some options for Central Minnesotans: 

Great River Regional Library branches do not have glasses available for people to take home, but they will be available to share at eclipse-viewing events, said Abby Faulkner, a public relations specialist for the library system.

Author: Stephanie Dickrell,
Photo: Courtesy of National Eye Institute