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Viewing eclipse safely

As excitement on social media about Monday's solar eclipse heats up, experts are urging people to take good care of their eyes when they enjoy the spectacle in Canadian skies.

Ralph Chou, a University of Waterloo optometry professor and president of the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, says that staring at the sun for more than a few seconds will cause harm. He says the eye feels no pain so it will be too late to look away from potential retina-burning solar rays before a person notices they've done potentially-permanent damage.

"The problem with the back of the eye is that there's no pain sensors, so all this damage can occur without you even knowing about it until it's far too late ... the next morning they wake up and the photo receptors at the very centre of their vision are damaged and they suddenly realize they can't see their faces in the bathroom mirror," he said. The person will have to wait an anxious three months to know whether the damage is permanent, Chou said.

Regular sunglasses just won't cut it during the direct viewing for an eclipse because they allow in thousands of times more sunlight than is safe to reach your eyes. NASA says special solar eclipse glasses should be marked with the "ISO 12312-2" international safety standard on the label. Make sure there are no scratches on the lenses.

These glasses cost only a few dollars but are becoming hard to find as they are selling out.

This week, Amazon pulled potentially shady glasses from its site and issued refunds to customers who had already purchased them. In an email to buyers, the company said it could not get confirmation from the supplier that the glasses came from a recommended manufacturer.

"We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse," the email said.

The American Astronomical Society has a list of reputable sellers of solar eclipse glasses on its website. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, some universities and science centres will be distributing free eclipse glasses at viewing parties across Canada. Science museums and stores that sell telescopes may also have stock left.



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