Astronomers, doctors and other experts alike are in total agreement on one point—don’t stare at a solar eclipse without eye protection unless you want to damage your vision or go blind, you goddamn idiot.
This warning was in large part heeded by all but the very uninformed or the very impulsive, categories which both naturally included President Donald Trump, who soaked in as much luxurious unshielded eclipse viewing as he could on Monday. Now Wikileaks chief Julian Assange, whose behavior and vaguely pro-Trump leanings have grown more concerning in direct proportion to the amount of time he has spent locked inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is warning the public not to fall for Big Safety Glasses’ grift.
Early Monday evening, Assange tweeted “There’s no danger staring directly at the moon during a total eclipse. Before/after, the moon only partly covers the sun = usual sun danger.”
He added, “You look away when you see it ending. Eyes also move to protect themselves. The hysteria seems to be sustained by glasses company profits.”
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In fairness to Assange, he’s not wrong that a total solar eclipse is, in theory, safe to look at during the very short period of time that the main body of the sun is covered entirely by the moon. In that extremely limited circumstance, only parts of the the sun’s corona which do not emit enough energy to damage the eye are visible.
But the vast majority of people viewing an eclipse never see a totality. They’ll see a partial eclipse, which is when only a significant percentage of the sun is covered (as in New York today, where only 72 percent of the sun was obscured). Because so much of the sun is covered during a partial eclipse, one’s eyes may not “move to protect themselves.” Instead, the sun will dim enough that one could get fooled into staring at it, even as it’s frying the interior of their retinas.
As NASA noted, the reason one should still use protective glasses or other equipment during a total solar eclipse is because as the moon rotates in front of the sun, it’s very difficult to determine the exact window of time someone might have to look at it. Again, since the vast majority of people are not in the path of the totality—though may believe they are, especially if they’re close to it—it’s really, really for the best that everyone just wears the damn safety glasses. For both of these reasons, advocating otherwise sounds an awful lot like a teenage boy arguing he doesn’t need to wear a condom because he knows when to pull out.
There was no safe time for Trump to look at the eclipse, because the sun was only 80 percent obscured in Washington, D.C.
“Glasses company profits” seems a little naive, considering high demand took retailers by surprise and the rarity of major eclipses does not really seem all that conducive to the formation of an astronomy-industrial complex, but hey—the next time Assange wants to take a cake out of the oven or something, he’s free to defy Big Oven Mitts too. Whatever.