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August 10, 2017

Be on the lookout for dangerous fake solar eclipse glasses

With less than two weeks until the Great American Solar Eclipse, astronomy enthusiasts from all parts of the country are scrambling to acquire eclipse glasses so they can safely view this historic event – but experts are warning that some companies are offering fake, unsafe products.

The eclipse, which will take place on August 21, will be at least partially visible throughout the continental United States and will provide some viewers with the first total solar eclipse in nearly a century, according to the Huffington Post. It will undoubtedly be a historic occasion, but sadly, some unscrupulous firms are trying to make a quick buck by putting your health at risk.

According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) website, “the marketplace is being flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses” which manufacturers falsely claim have been certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) when, in fact, they have not. What that means is that these products may not provide the minimum required level of eye protection.

Previously, the AAS advised people to make sure that their glasses contained the printed label “ISO 12312-2” to verify that the product complies with international safety standards for filters of direct viewing of the sun, the Palm Beach Post Weatherplus Blog explained. In light of this latest development, however, they are warning people to only purchase eclipse glasses or solar filters from one of the companies on its list of  reputable vendors.

How can you guarantee that your glasses are actually safe?

The AAS warning comes on the heels of a recent Quartz report alleging that glasses purchased online through Amazon may not necessarily be safe to use during the upcoming eclipse. In fact, just 16 of the top 140 products listed claimed to be manufactured by an AAS-approved firm.

So how do you know if your glasses are safe? The first thing that the agency recommends it to ensure that it contains the ISO 12312-2 (or ISO 12312-2:2015) certification, which should mean that it has been properly evaluated and meets the minimum safety standard for solar viewing.

Of course, as we’ve already established, just because a pair of glasses contains the label doesn’t necessarily mean that it has actually been evaluated. Unfortunately, the AAS explained, there is no easy way to check the glasses for yourself, as evaluating a solar filter requires a costly device called a spectrophotometer to shine UV, visible and infrared light through the filter to determine how much passes through at each of the respective wavelengths.

“Solar filter manufacturers send their products to specialized labs that are accredited to perform the tests necessary to verify compliance with the ISO 12312-2 safety specifications,” they noted. Once manufacturers have obtained paperwork documenting their products as ISO-compliant, the AAS said, they are legally allowed to use the ISO logo on their products and packaging.

That said, you there are things you can do that will alert you to the fact that your glasses may not be safe. If you look at something bright, such as a bright-white LED flashlight or an incandescent light bulb, and they do not appear dim through the glasses, odds are that the solar filter would not be safe for the eclipse. Likewise, if you didn’t get the glasses through a reputable source, or if the filters appear to be torn or otherwise damaged, or if the filters are coming loose from their frame, the AAS recommends discarding them.

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Image credit: Rob Stothard