Following decades of hype, the Great American Eclipse will finally pass over the contiguous United States on Monday, August 21. If you’re one of the millions of people who will be watching the event, you may be tempted to document it with a quick over-the-shoulder selfie. But even if you’re facing away from the sun, using your phone to photograph it can still do damage, as Gothamist reports.
A viral post that recently circulated on Facebook instructs anyone without protective eyeglasses to view the eclipse live by filming it through their phone’s front-facing camera. Retina expert Tongalp Tezel, MD of Columbia University Medical Center explained to Gothamist why this is a bad idea: “What they may not realize is that the screen of your phone reflects the ultraviolet rays emitted during an eclipse directly toward your eye, which can result in a solar burn."
The power of the sun shouldn’t be underestimated, as NASA has warned people repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the eclipse. The rays that peek out when the sun is 99 percent covered are still enough to fry your retinas' delicate tissue and inflict lifelong damage. And your eyes aren’t all that's at risk—the lens of your camera, whether it’s part of a smartphone or not, also needs to be protected if you plan on pointing it at the eclipse.
If you’ve already secured a solar camera filter and ISO 12312-2-certified glasses, then you should have no trouble witnessing the phenomenon safely. But even without the proper eyewear there are plenty of ways to experience the eclipse without exposing your eyes to direct sunlight. And if you forgot to pick up a camera filter, that's a good excuse to watch the event unplugged.