Metro

Be careful when buying ‘eclipse glasses,’ astronomy group warns

MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images/File

When it comes to purchasing the right type of glasses to safely view this month’s solar eclipse, there’s more than meets the eye.

Officials from the nonprofit American Astronomical Society are warning people — those looking to buy the special lenses that allow you to stare directly at an eclipse as it’s happening — to steer clear of phony or counterfeit products being sold online. Buying inadequate glasses, the group says, could lead to serious eye damage.

The proper lenses should meet what’s called “ISO 12312-2” (sometimes written as “ISO 12312-2:2015”) international safety standards, according to the group. Accredited manufacturers print a logo bearing this identifying mark on their products and packaging.

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The problem is, vendors seem to be slapping that label onto glasses that don’t meet the qualifications, possibly looking to earn a quick buck amid the excitement surrounding the Aug. 21 celestial event.

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This, of course, has experts worried.

“We used to say that you should look for evidence that they comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for filters for direct viewing of the sun,” according to a statement on the American Astronomical Society’s website. “But now the marketplace is being flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that are labeled as if they’re ISO-compliant when in fact, they are not.”

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the only time it’s safe to view a solar eclipse without “eclipse glasses” or special viewing lenses is during the moment of “totality,” when the moon completely obscures the sun’s glaring disk. (Information about viewing the eclipse safely is on NASA’s website, eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety).

Before and after that moment could spell trouble for spectators trying to peer up toward the rare, natural occurrence.

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“People should never look directly into the sun except when it’s in totality,” said Christine Jones, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and president of the society.

“People can seriously damage their eyes,” she said.

A full solar eclipse will only be visible in what experts call the “path of totality,” a 70-mile-wide corridor that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. Totality will only occur for roughly two minutes.

For everyone else who isn’t within the path — like residents in Massachusetts — only a partial eclipse will be visible when the moon passes between the earth and the sun.

That means, finding the right specs is a must.

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In its warning about faux products, the society pointed to a recent report by Quartz, which scoured Amazon for unsafe glasses being shelled out to the public as the hype grows ahead of the eclipse.

‘The marketplace is being flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that are labeled as if they’re ISO-compliant when in fact, they are not.’

“Unscrupulous vendors can grab the ISO logo off the Internet and put it on their products and packaging even if their eclipse glasses or viewers haven’t been properly tested,” the society said. “This means that just seeing the ISO logo or a label claiming ISO 12312-2 certification isn’t good enough. You need to know that the product comes from a reputable manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers.”

The society offered its own list of what it called “reputable vendors” where viewers can purchase legitimate specs for the occasion, diverting people away from the reportedly bunk offerings being promoted to consumers.

“If we don’t list a supplier, that doesn’t mean their products are unsafe — only that we have no knowledge of them or that we haven’t convinced ourselves they are safe,” the group said.

The society added, “Your eyes are precious! You don’t need astronomers to tell you that, but you do need astronomers to tell you where to get safe solar filters. . . . To do otherwise is to take unnecessary risks.”

Cardboard frames for solar eclipse glasses are stacked in the American Paper Optics factory in Bartlett, Tenn.
Adrian Sainz/Associated Press
Cardboard frames for solar eclipse glasses are stacked in the American Paper Optics factory in Bartlett, Tenn.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.