Keep an Eye Out for Counterfeit Solar Filter Glasses

You’re going to want to see this.

On August 21st, a total solar eclipse will transfix parts of the U.S. and a partial eclipse will cover the rest of North America. In other words, millions of people will have the opportunity to see the moon cover up the sun, what many astronomers call “the most gorgeous natural wonder you will ever see.”

But, as we’ve heard for centuries: never look directly at the sun. Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, as during an eclipse, can cause severe eye damage and even blindness.

The only safe way to view the eclipse is through solar filter glasses.

Solar filter glasses shield more than 99.99 percent of sun’s harmful rays. But you need to make sure the solar filter glasses you purchase are certified as genuine by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Unfortunately, NASA and other organizations dedicated to viewer safety during the upcoming eclipse have identified numerous reports of counterfeit solar filter glasses.

Counterfeit glasses aren’t subject to the stringent safety tests legitimate glasses endure, so there’s no way to verify whether their filtering capabilities are up to ISO standards.

And the materials needed to produce genuine solar filter glasses are rare and difficult to produce – think black polymer infused with carbon particles and polyester coated in aluminum – so it’s likely that counterfeiters are using unapproved, substandard materials instead.

Lack of proper safety testing combined with the use of substandard materials can translate into truly tragic consequences.

The sun’s strong light can burn a hole through your retinas and cook the exposed tissue of the eye. Permanent damage – that leads to partial and total blindness – can occur within just a minute and a half.  The damage is cumulative; even if you’re taking quick glances, your eyes are at risk.

It’s also important to note that the damage usually happens without any pain and symptoms don’t arise for hours after viewing. It’s risky. You may not realize your solar filter glasses aren’t filtering properly until it’s too late.

So what’s the best way to ensure your solar filter glasses are the real deal?

NASA recognizes five manufacturers that sell adequate glasses: Rainbow SymphonyAmerican Paper OpticsThousand Oaks OpticalTSE 17, and Baader Planetarium (the products with AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only).

Glasses from these manufacturers include the manufacturer’s name and address printed directly on the glasses, as well as a clear ISO certification mark. The ISO certification mark will include text declaring the glasses meet the requirements of ISO 12312-2 – the international safety standard for filters for direct viewing of the sun.

Unfortunately, counterfeiters are labeling and packaging their products to very closely resemble genuine solar filter glasses – even stamping them with fake ISO certification marks stolen from legitimate websites.

To avoid these dangerous fakes, it’s crucial to buy directly from the manufacturers or from one of their authorized dealers. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) – working in conjunction with NASA – has prepared a list of reputable vendors. If you buy from these vendors, you can be confident your glasses will keep your eyes protected.

And finally, while you may not be able to test your solar filter glasses in a laboratory like ISO, you can conduct a simple field test to safeguard you and your family. Try on your glasses and inspect them carefully.

  • Any glasses that allow you to see ordinary house or office lights are not safe.
  • Any glasses that sport visible tears or scratches are not suitable for use.

This month’s solar eclipse will present the best eclipse viewing opportunity many of us will have in our lifetimes. The next total solar eclipse will occur in July 2019 over Argentina and Chile. North America won’t see another total eclipse until 2024.

So, make sure you’ve purchased genuine solar filter glasses. And help warn others of dangerous counterfeits.

Kasie Brill is the senior director of brand protection for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center. 

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