For at least a brief period of time, President Donald Trump looked at the solar eclipse without special viewing glasses. What remains unclear though is whether or not the president's vision will be affected by an action which doctors have been warning against for weeks.
According to doctors, looking directly at a solar eclipse can burn a hole through a person's retinas. The extent of the damage largely depends on how long a person glimpses the eclipse. “It can range from blurry vision to absolute permanent vision loss,” Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, told the New York Times.
What's worse is that if someone does decide to look at the eclipse without protection, he or she will not even know that it's burning his or her retinas until the damage is already done. “We don’t have pain receptors in the retina, so you won’t even know the damage is occurring,” said David J. Calkins, vice chair and director for research at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, according to the New York Times.
If the president is lucky, he may have caught the eclipse at its only vision-safe moment — there is a very, very brief period of time during which one could look at the solar eclipse without special glasses, according to NASA. According to its website:
Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse (“totality”), when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality. The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.”
However, Washington, D.C., did not experience the eclipse in totality. Its coverage was just more than 80 percent.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that the president will know if he damaged his eyes immediately, as symptoms of eclipse-burned retinas take a few hours to a few days to develop. According to the organization Prevent Blindness, symptoms of damage include loss of central vision (solar retinopathy), distorted vision, and altered color vision.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Ted Mann, the president's ill-advised decision to look at the eclipse not only flouted science, but also the warnings of one of his aides. Mann tweeted that someone from the crowd of aides shouted "Don't look" when the president started to look up toward the solar eclipse, protective glasses off.