If you are a friend or fan of mine, you know I'm a pretty smart person. I went to school for astrophysics. My husband has his degree in mechanical engineering, and has worked at optical companies. We aren't strangers to the world of optics and lenses and what we should be looking for when we buy things like solar eclipse viewing glasses.
Yet, we were still duped.
Nerds and laypeople alike are pretty stoked--as they should be!--about the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. As most school kids know, though, in order to see the eclipse, you need some special equipment. Looking at a solar eclipse with your naked eye, through sunglasses, even through things like welders' glass and things like that, will lead to permanent eye damage. Your retinas don't have pain receptors. You can't tell that they are being damaged. But the light from a solar eclipse is so focused and bright that it will sear your retinas and can cause blindness, and at the very least, irreversible damage. People have used things like pinhole cameras and other indirect methods of viewing eclipses for years now. But more recently, people started using solar eclipse glasses, the cheapest of which look like paper 3-D glasses, but that have lenses that look completely black.
Legit solar eclipse viewing glasses should be so dark you can't see ANYTHING through them, not even the lights in your house, nothing. And the lenses should meet the transmission requirements of ISO 12312-2. But here's the thing...in the days where everyone owns a printer, where anything can be mass produced, etc, there is a HUGE influx of fake glasses out there, that are CLAIMING to be ISO certified, that have the logo on them, etc, but aren't.
When we were buying our family's glasses, we did what we thought was due diligence, and to be honest, eclipse glasses fraud wasn't high on our concern list. Who the heck would do that, putting people's eyes at risk?
Well, it turns out, quite a few people and companies.
We bought our glasses from Amazon. We have Prime, and it was convenient. We got a 10 pack of the paper framed kind, and they looked like the ones Bill Nye advertised via the Planetary Society. When they arrived, I put them aside, to wait for the big day.
Then a friend sent me a link to a news article warning people about the fake glasses.
My eyeballs are important to me, and I had misgivings about using the glasses in the first place. But this prompted me to inspect my glasses closely.
Mind you, the American Astronomical society has a list of their approved vendors and manufacturers of eclipse viewers, and top of the list is American Paper Optics. The picture below is an image of the glasses I bought. Look at the manufacturer:
OK, so far so good, right? But wait. Look at the second word on the verbiage there. "Conforms TWO?" That's a doozy of a typo.
I went to the website listed, and I went to American Paper Optics's website separately. They aren't the same, but the contact on each is the same and the phone numbers match, the addresses match...That's because they are both the same company, the legitimate American Paper Optics company. All the info on these glasses is CORRECT.
Because American Paper Optics knows about the fraud company, they kindly provided a picture of what the inside of their glasses SHOULD look like. Here it is:
Notice two things: There is no typo on these, AND there is a barcode. There is no barcode on the glasses we bought that claim to be from American Paper Optics. But, you know, maybe that barcode is only on particular models....
The other thing that tipped me off was that the name of the glasses we bought, Soluna, is nowhere on American Paper Optics's page. There are pictures of several other glasses with different printing, all legitimately made by American Paper Optics, but Soluna is nowhere to be seen. Upon further inspection of the glasses, I noticed that the lenses were squarish. Like this:
Now look at the picture of the real glasses, above. See how the sides of the lenses are curved? ALL American Paper Optics glasses have CURVED sides to the lenses. And indeed, inspection of their website shows this:
I don't know about you, but I was pretty pissed when I saw this. So, back to Amazon I went, to report the company we bought these glasses from. Only....there was a problem.
The company was gone.
Of course they were gone. They probably put the glasses up for a couple days, then disappeared, then popped up under a new name, disappeared again. Selling these fraudulent glasses claiming to be from a company they are not IS in fact a felony, and having the certification info on there when they were never checked is against international law.
But most important of all, there is absolutely NO way of knowing if these glasses will keep your eyes safe, because they aren't tested and the info on them is fake.
Please, PLEASE, PLEASE only get your glasses from places that the American Astronomical Society, NASA, and the Planetary Society have deemed safe. Do NOT buy them from Amazon.
Here is a list of places deemed safe and legitimate. If you Google the names, you will find the correct sites for them, but I've provided a link for the first:
APM Telescopes (Sunfilter Glasses)
Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold Film)
Celestron (EclipSmart Glasses & Viewers)
DayStar (Solar Glasses)
Explore Scientific (Solar Eclipse Sun Catcher Glasses)
Lunt Solar Systems (SUNsafe SUNglasses)
Meade Instruments (EclipseView Glasses & Viewers)
Rainbow Symphony (Eclipse Shades)
Seymour Solar (Helios Glasses)
Thousand Oaks Optical (Silver-Black Polymer & SolarLite)
TSE 17 (Solar Filter Foil)
Sadly, the world seems to have become about the quickest way to make a buck. Yes, the glasses on Amazon are cheaper, but it is NOT worth the risk to your eyes. The damage to your eyes from looking at an eclipse is not repairable and is permanent. Pay a bit more and get the actual certified glasses. Make sure you can't see ANYTHING through them. Not a thing. Not the lights around the house, nothing. If you can see anything, throw them out. Or do what I'm doing and return them, reporting the company to Amazon and whatever authorities I can find.
If this has you paranoid--and I know I kind of feel that way--you can see the eclipse other ways as well. Here is a link to NASA's page on how to make your own pinhole camera to view the eclipse. It's a fun and simple project you can do with your family!
And please PLEASE protect your eyes properly. You only get one set!
Melanie R. Meadors is an author of fantasy where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She has edited two upcoming genre anthologies, MECH: Age of Steel and HATH NO FURY, and is the science and pop culture blogger at The Once and Future Podcast. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.