What Really Happens When You Watch The Eclipse Without Glasses

Solar eclipses are the the KISS concerts of astronomical occurrences ... and, just like a KISS concert, you'd be foolish to look directly at it without some form of eye protection. Why is that, though?

The sun, in case you're unfamiliar with it, is bright. Super bright. As far as things that you can look at in the sky, it tends to bury the needle on the "bright" to "not bright" scale. Now, bright things, when stared at directly, have a nasty ol' habit of damaging your peepers, and if you don't believe that, try heading down to a construction site and see how many folks are arc welding without eye protection. That said, it's not just the golden, life-giving sunlight that can gunk up your optical works. NASA helpfully points out that the sun is a generous supplier of invisible infrared radiation, the primary contributor to potential eye damage. 

That's right, slugger: you could wind up going blind without ever seeing what caused it.

Turn around, bright eyes

This seems like an opportune time to bring up retinas. These fleshy cogs in your body's seeing-machine have a key weakness ... or, well, several key weaknesses. They're basically jelly. Among the many, many key flaws in the human retina, though, are the total lack of pain receptors. This, as Washington D.C.'s WUSA 9 notes, means that the back of your precious eyeballs could be crisping up like Popeye's Chicken, and you wouldn't notice a thing, save the darkness slowly closing in.

And hey, maybe not even that. The symptoms of solar retinopathy can take hours to present themselves. Once they do, they'll be hard to miss, since they include old classics like "partial to total blindness" and perennial favorite "central or paracentral scotoma." What's scotoma? It's when a chunk of your field of vision is altered, making part of the world look permanently like there's the ghost of a plastic bag in front of it. 

Lesson of the day? Basically, don't be like Keith David in They Live: When someone tells you to put on the glasses, put on the glasses.