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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – When millions of Americans turn their faces skyward to witness the nation’s first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in a century, many will reach for specially designed sunglasses, but experts caution the public to stay clear of unsafe counterfeits.
Even as makers of certified, safety-tested solar eye ware rushed to meet surging demand before the Aug. 21 eclipse, they have joined astronomers and optometrists in warning of defective knockoffs flooding the U.S. market.
“It’s a bunch of unscrupulous people cashing in on the eclipse and putting public safety at risk,” said Richard Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society (AAS).
Staring at the sun without proper filtration, even when it is partially obscured by the moon during an eclipse, can damage or destroy photo-receptor cells of the eye’s retina, leaving blind spots in a person’s field of vision, experts said.
Special eyeglasses made with proper solar filters allow viewers to safely gaze at the sun any time for unlimited duration, the AAS said.
Although the advent of solar-safe sunglasses dates back more than three decades, they have never been so widely available to the public as for the 2017 event, which Fienberg said may rank as the most watched total solar eclipse in human history.
That is largely because this year’s spectacle will be the first in 99 years to span the entire continental United States – the world’s third most populous nation – across a 70-mile-wide (113-km) path over 14 states, from the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Atlantic shore of South Carolina.
It will also be the first total solar eclipse visible from any of the Lower 48 states since 1979.