If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you might be scrambling for a makeshift way to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse. On Reddit, some have suggested watching it through your smart phone camera’s selfie mode, but that’s a pretty terrible idea.
Long story short, looking at the sun without solar eclipse glasses can cause irreversible eye damage. And so can taking a selfie with the sun, scientists warn, since our smart phones don’t exactly work as solar filters.
“Many people will think it’s safe to take a selfie with the eclipse in the background because they aren’t looking directly at the sun,” Tongalp Tezel, a retina expert at Columbia University Medical Center, said in a release. “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.”
A solar burn is when the intense light energy from the sun falls on our eyes’ photoreceptors, causing damage that eventually stops visual signals from reaching the brain. In the release, Tezel claims that renowned astronomer Sir Issac Newtown damaged his eyes by watching an eclipse through the reflection of a pond surface. Newton also reported other eye-damaging incidents during his lifetime of studying the galaxy, such as looking at the sun in a mirror.
The release also stated that Galileo allegedly damaged his retina by looking at an eclipse through a telescope. Contrary to some rumors that this caused his later blindness, several historians believe that it was actually caused by glaucoma. Either way, it’s true that telescopes and binoculars without special filters can damage our eyesight when aimed at the sun — and so can the modern selfie.
In other words, don’t do it for the Instagram.