There is to be a solar eclipse visible in the northern UK on Friday, apparently. You’re not allowed to look at it.

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, clinical adviser at the Royal College of Optometrists, said taking a selfie could see you ‘accidentally looking directly at the sun while aligning yourself and your phone’.

Accidentally looking at the sun. For a second. Who hasn’t ever looked at the sun for a second or two? Any longer and it hurts. So you look away.

He told The Daily Telegraph: ‘There is no safe system to directly view an eclipse. However viewing a video or photo of the eclipse on your phone screen would not be harmful.’

Is that… ‘no safe level of sunlight’? I’ve watched partial eclipses through a friend’s welding mask. No harm befell me. I was neither blinded nor incinerated. My eyes did not pop out on long strings and my elbows didn’t explode. So it was all good.

At least the real story belies the Mail’s atempted obfuscation –

But optometrists have warned that taking a selfie during the near-total solar eclipse on Friday could lead to eye damage – and even be as dangerous as looking directly at the sun.

Er… no. If you are standing with your back to the eclipse and looking at an image of it on your phone,  there is no direct sunlight entering your eyes. Only reflected and phone screen light. Which is what the clinical adviser actually said. A photo of a thing is not the thing itself. You can stare at a photo of the sun all day long and suffer no ill effects beyond soul-crushing boredom. Stare at the sun for an hour and you’ll never see again.

When I was at school (mine has long been demolished, as have most other places I studied and worked at. It wasn’t me!) the viewing implement of choice was a piece of smoked glass. We made these in chemistry class by holding a sheet of glass over a candle or a bunsen turned to a yellow flame. The smoke built up on the glass until it was impossible to see anything through it unless you held it up to the sun. I recall only one eclipse at school, and then only vaguely. It was *harrumph* years ago and I was just a hairy and spotty adolescent at the time.

So we viewed the eclipse through our bit of smoked glass and all was well. Nobody fell to the floor screaming ‘My eyes! My eyes!’. Nobody spontaneously combusted. Not a single child ignited that day. There were a few I still wish had.

Now… now they aren’t even allowed to view the eclipse through professionally made glasses designed specifically for the purpose. Because of something a head teacher read online.

Wait a minute. Solar eclipse glasses? Surely that’s a slow-moving business?

It’s true that staring into the sun for extended periods will damage your eyes. That’s why your eyes immediately send a message to your brain saying ‘That hurts. Stop doing it!’ And then you look away, blink until you can see properly and learn not to do it again.

It’s not difficult to make smoked glass for an eclipse. Then you can wash the glass and use it for something else, such as seeing through or making that breaking-glass sound. Now, even with professionally-made things, you risk spontaneous combustion and exploding elbows.

What? It is an established and well fabricated fact that these things are linked to solar eclipses. Incidences of elbow explosion are very closely linked indeed. In fact, they happen at no other time. In the eclipse of August 11, 1999, the outbreak of elbow explosion in the UK nearly broke the NHS but you won’t hear about that because they blamed it all on smoking.

I think, for me, the only bad thing about this eclipse is the scheduling. 9:30 am on a Friday? Nobody sensible is even awake then. Why not 9:30 pm? It’ll be dark then so no danger of sun-blindness. Also, I could watch it on the way home. I’ll suggest it to the idiots in charge. I’m sure they’ll listen. They listen to a lot weirder crap than that.

Anyhow, it’s overcast here because there is a good chance of an aurora tonight. It’ll be overcast here at 9:30 am on Friday but blue sky by 11 am. I still won’t be up, most likely.

Friday is my day off and I have a couple of days of double shifts this week. So I’ll be catching up on sleep. Not much sleep last night, a bit more tonight, more again tomorrow because there’s only a 3 pm start on Thursday, and all the rest on Friday morning.

So I’m pretty certain I’ll miss the eclipse. Probably for the best. I need my elbows.


14 thoughts on “Eclipse

  1. “It’s true that staring into the sun for extended periods will damage your eyes. That’s why your eyes immediately send a message to your brain saying ‘That hurts. Stop doing it!’ “

    Well, THERE’S your problem. Most people have been trained to ignore whatever the brain says.


  2. I have watched eclipses unaided for years, the sun just does not become some laser beam eye scalder during them. This is bunk put out by old wives, just don’t stare at it for an hour…


  3. I watched the last eclipse in 1999 in the company of Jane Ellison – true story. Now there’s someone who could of done with a little incinerating …


  4. This is what happened last time.

    Total eclipse will bring chaos to Cornwall – 1998

    “Planners in Cornwall expect chaos when eclipse-hunters descend on the county next year.

    Traffic gridlock, food and water shortages, sanitation problems, lack of accommodation and added stress on the emergency services are anticipated when 1.5m people arrive to see the first total solar eclipse over Britain for 72 years.”

    “Astronomer Heather Couper explains the attraction for amateurs and professionals alike: “It’s rather like people being desperate to see Haley’s comet as they were years ago.

    “It’s something that people really ought to see at least once in their lives – its like something you’ve never experienced before.

    But most accommodation is already booked up so there is likely to be a relaxation of planning regulations to allow farmers to convert their fields into temporary campsites.”

    Then Liam Donaldson intervened.

    28th July 1999

    “Don’t chance a glance

    The Government”s Chief Medical Officer today urged solar eclipse watchers to play safe with their eyesight and watch it on television.”

    The roads of North Cornwall were deserted, the sight of bunting in empty fields was quite depressing.


  5. There was a partial eclipse many years ago in the afternoon. I was playing golf at the time and the sky was pretty clear. Even though it was only a partial eclipse, it really was quite eerie. Over a short period of time, full daylight became twilight. I didn’t watch the eclipse, of course, but I was quite happy to glance sunwards from time to time – sufficient to see the shape of the moon as it passed in front of the sun.


    • The thing I’d like to see is the approaching shadow. I’d need to be on a hilltop at 9:30 in the morning to do that. Not happening, not this week. Friday I need to catch up on sleep.


  6. “as dangerous as looking directly at the sun”

    This reminded me that I have a book around here, still unpacked after a recent move, The Handbook of Self-Healing: Your Personal Program for Better Health and Increased Vitality by Meir Schneider; in it, there’s a chapter on vision (he used the Bates method to cure hinself from legal blindness to having a legal drivers licence!) where the practice of “sunning” is mentioned. Starting with closing the eyes, facing towards the sun, and moving the head slowly back and forth to allow the sunlight to shine through the closed eyelids, people curing their eyesight problems were able to increasingly tolerate looking directly at the sun (sunset with less ultraviolet seems best!).

    The wikipedia entry on Bates_method is very public health disparaging, but a search on say “sunning eye therapy” (that I started to remind myself for this comment) is quite revealing (search Meir Schneider too) – there’s even a page Bates was right! Research Confirms Sunning is beneficial!


    In his book, Dr. Bates mentioned people with normal sight who were able to look directly into the sun without discomfort and without loss of vision afterwards. He does caution that people with imperfect sight are, in the vast majority of cases, likely only to increase eyestrain and lower the vision by sun-gazing. Nowhere does he actually recommend that the general public try it, but he made it clear that he could not find a case where being cured by his methods did not also make any negative effects of sun-gazing disappear. In other words, all of the people who were relieved of their vision problems also were relieved of negative aftereffects of sun-gazing. So he could not find a case of ill effects from looking at the sun that proved to be permanent.

    There’s a public domain copy of Bates’ 1920 book at

    (That’s 3 links;- not sure if it will be allowed, but here goes!)

    I see too in my original search on “sunning eye therapy” there’s also mention of ‘heliotherapy’ and a great if slightly bizarre-at-first-seeming page “Sun Gazing for Health: An Ancient Therapy – Earth Clinic” that really refutes the idea that looking directly at the sun is bad for you… lots of comments under the article, too!

    “Sun gazing, a practice also known as sun eating, is a strict regimen of gradually allowing sunlight into your eyes at specific periods of the day. The goal when implementing the practice is to look into the sun at periods of the lowest ultraviolet-index which occur at sunrise and sunset each day. The practice follows specific guidelines to render the most benefits and to limit dangerous exposure.

    The practice is also known as the HRM phenomenon, a termed that the practice received after Hira Ratan Manek submitted himself to NASA for testing. Research suggested that Manek actually did possess the seemingly super-human ability of not eating. With regular practice, following a strict regimen over a period of approximately 9 months, many practitioners report losing the need for food and subsisting on energy from the sun.

    What Are the Benefits of Sun Eating?

    In essence, sun gazing provides beneficial stimulation to the body. The process itself negates the body’s innate need for food and retrains it to run on the energy of the sun. As such, the process helps increase energy, clarity of thinking, and overall health. NASA research suggested that the process could make an individual maintain a level of health that was far better in comparison to other individuals of the same age.

    The process has also been shown as an effective treatment for specific conditions. Melanoma, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a number of other cancers benefit from the treatment. Likewise, the increased vitamin D gained from the process is a known healing agent.

    How Do I Start Sun Gazing?

    Following the specific process for sun gazing is crucial to prevent sun damage. The process involves a 9 month practice, which is typically broken into three phases: 0 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, and 6 to 9 months. After the initial phase, you’ll continue walking barefoot for 45 minutes daily for the rest of your life.

    To begin, select a safe period of the day (sunrise or sunset) and gaze at the sun for 10 seconds. Continue consecutively adding 10 seconds a day. Be sure to stand on the bare earth and look straight into the sun. During the first three months, you’ll notice mental depression subside and an increase in balance of the body and mind.

    Continue daily gazing at the sun adding 10 seconds each day through the next phase and you’ll experience the curing of physical diseases. Progress into the last phase, 6 to 9 months, continuing to gradually increase the amount of gazing to 44 minutes. Once you have reached 44 minutes, begin walking barefoot on the earth for 45 minutes daily. Complete this practice for a total of 6 days straight at a period of the day when the earth is warm and the sun shines on your body. This period is when you’ll realize the full effects of the practice.

    To maintain the benefits of sun gazing and to boost the immune system, continue the practice of walking daily. The process is illuminating and enlightening and has the potential for increasing health in super-human ways.”



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