Eclipse FAQs: Are pets' eyes in danger? What if I'm on a plane?

Updated 8/21/2017 6:23 AM

In anticipation of Monday's eclipse, people have asked us some unusual eclipse questions. So we sought out answers.

Q. Why is it necessary to take precautions against looking at the sun during the eclipse and use special glasses, when there's no warning to do so on an ordinary day?


A. Just because there aren't daily warnings doesn't mean it's not dangerous. It's being emphasized now because people are more likely to stare at the sun.

"Remember how you used to use a handheld magnifier to focus the sun on a piece of paper, so it would burn a hole in it? That's the equivalent of looking at the sun without protection, only the retina is much more powerful than a magnifier," said Dr. Thomas Patrianakos, chairman of the division of ophthalmology at Cook County Health & Hospitals System.

Dr. Quraish Ghadiali, a retinal surgeon at Cook County Health & Hospitals System, said it can take just a few seconds to burn the retina.

"And it's not something we're able to repair," he said.

Q. What if I'm on an airplane that day? And what about the pilots?

A. The guidelines are the same whether you're on the ground or in the air. Special eclipse glasses are required to prevent eye damage. The world's largest pilot union, Air Line Pilots Association International, advised its members to tell passengers that the only safe time to look at the sun is during the brief period of totality. Because of the risk of eye injuries for the passengers and crew, both NASA and ALPA have advised flight crews not to make any maneuvers to assist in viewing the eclipse.

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Q. How old is the light you are seeing?

A. According to NASA, it takes roughly eight minutes for light to travel here from the sun. However, it takes between 10,000 and 170,000 years for the light to emerge from the sun's core.

Q. Do you need to protect pets?

A. Not really. Because they're unlikely to stare at the sun, they don't need any additional eye protection. If pet owners are concerned, the Schaumburg-based American Veterinary Medical Association recommends keeping them inside during the eclipse. The AVMA was not aware of any special pet eclipse-viewing glasses.

Q. Are eclipses considered omens?

A. To some cultures, during some periods of history, yes. Through the ages, eclipses were viewed with both wonder and fear, especially before people had advance notice of them. When eclipses occurred, people feared vengeful gods or an apocalypse. According to an article published on, Babylonian scholars believed eclipses could foretell the death of the king.

Q. Can blind people experience the eclipse?

A. Yes. Most visually impaired people can still sense darkness or light (although they still need protective eyewear to view the eclipse). They also can experience it through other senses, including feeling the temperature drop and hearing the birds quiet down, says a spokeswoman for the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Winnetka.

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