This is another of my "Doomsday Debunking" articles, using science and astronomy to debunk some of the crazy modern myths about the end of the world.  This time it's the idea that the eclipse of the sun on 21st August in the US is a "sign" that the world is about to end. If you are an astronomer or scientists you will just LOL at this for sure. But for some people this fear is like a living nightmare for them. They contact me, extremely scared that the world is, literally, about to end because of this eclipse. They probably flunked maths and physics at school and just don't have the scientific and astronomical background to evaluate it. And then they read alarming stories like this one: Will the world end this month? Conspiracy theorists claim the upcoming solar eclipse will cause the mysterious planet 'Nibiru' to smash into Earth. They think the world is going to end because David Meade whose book sells lots of copies on Amazon says so, and his book gets a lot of publicity on blog sites and in the tabloid news including the red top tabloids.

These present the story as if there was some debate about whether the world was about to end, and they need to present both sides. There isn't. No astronomer worth their salt would give any credence to this at all. Indeed, the whole thing is very funny to anyone with a scientific or physics background, like, absurdly funny until you realize people are scared by it.

So let's look at what an eclipse really is to start with and hopefully the science will help.

We no longer think a dragon is going to devour the sun, for instance, and that we have to do ceremonies to appease it. See the article from the BBC in response to these scare stories: "If you think an eclipse means doomsday, you're not the first" which goes into the history of it. The subtitle "(Hopefully they're wrong about the one occurring in the US next week.)" I think is meant in a humorous tone as somewhat tongue in cheek.

It’s totally normal. We get an eclipse of the sun every year or two.  It is just the small shadow of our Moon moving over the surface of Earth. Sometimes the shadow cone doesn’t quite touch Earth and we get an annular eclipse. Sometimes it does touch it and we get a total eclipse. 

It’s a small shadow 70 miles across and travels across the US at supersonic speeds, over Mach 3 at times. If you go to just the right place, within a strip only 70 miles across, then you can see a total eclipse for up to 2 minutes 40 seconds as it passes over you.

This is what an eclipse looks like from space - the dark patch here includes some of the area of partial eclipse. It’s only seen as total from the very center and darkest part of the shadow. 

The Moon's shadow photographed from space during an eclipse. As you see, it crosses the Earth from West to East. You may like to try to work out why that is. It's more subtle than you think, depending on the Earth's rotational speed so to get the right answer you need to look up the radius of the Earth and the distance to the Moon. I give the answer here: Why does the observation path for a solar eclipse move from west to east?

The Moon's shadow is shaped like a cone, because the Sun is so much larger. The tip of this cone only just touches the Earth which is why the shadow is so tiny. Sometimes it doesn't quite reach to the surface of Earth, depending on where the Moon is in its elliptical orbit, and then we get an annular eclipse with the sun never totally covered.

It is just a shadow and can’t harm you, but is a spectacular natural event. “Eclipse chasers” will travel hundreds of miles to see one.

For those that worry this will plunge us into freezing cold - do remember that half the Earth is plunged into shadow for half a day on average, once a day, we call it night. It causes us no harm at all, so I hope you can understand that you can’t be harmed by experiencing two minutes and 40 seconds of darkness in the middle of the day. The temperature will drop slightly, similarly to the way it drops at night, but this drop in temperature is harmless just as the night time drop in temperature is. Birds may go to roost, thinking night has come. 

If you watch the eclipse - be sure to get eclipse glasses. Only cost of the order of dollars. You may also be able to get them on the cover of astronomy magazines. You don’t sense any pain even when the back of your eye is burning - or more likely - getting bleached by UV light. You can lose your eyesight in the center of your vision temporarily, and in rare cases, permanently, by staring at the sun without protection. The only time it’s safe to stare at the sun without eye protection is when the sun is completely blocked by the Moon and you see the corona. More about this at the end of this article.


Though they are common, because the shadow is small, then it’s rare to see an eclipse anywhere particularly. You have to be standing within the blue eclipse track shown on the map here: this shows the eclipses from 2001 to 2020 including the US one, first a detail.

All the blue lines here are total eclipses. The red ones are annular, meaning that the sun is not totally blocked out. Here is the complete world map for eclipses for these two decades:

For high resolution version click here.

The last total eclipses in the US were back in the 1960s and 1970s so young people will not have seen one. Even older people won’t have seen it unless you traveled to the eclipse track. Here is the map for those US eclipses.

And this shows the whole world for that time period

(You need to click on the map to enlarge it to see the dates). Here is a direct link to the map if you want to zoom in to higher scale.

The next solar eclipse to cross the US is on 8th May 2024. Details here and high resolution image map for eclipses from 2021 to 2024 here.

This is NASA’s eclipse page, with lots of maps like that in the map section. Solar Eclipse Page

Because they always happen at new moon, you won’t see the moon until it starts to take a bite out of the sun. It’s lit up from behind.

There’s no scattered light in space, apart from a bit of light from the Earth, so the shaded side of the Moon is pitch black. It is, quite literally, behind the blue sky, as the blue is just scattered light from the atmosphere and the atmosphere of course is between us and the Moon, so you don’t see anything of it until it passes between you and the sun.


Some people worry because there will be a total eclipse around midday - because of some Bible passage about darkness at noon. Well eclipses that span midday are very common.

First example: Solar eclipse of August 11, 1999

This eclipse was maximum at 11 am in Romania but was still total over India around midday. This was the last total eclipse in the UK

Photograph of the 1999 solar eclipse by Luc Viatour

That photograph shows the corona - white rays radiating out from the Sun which you only see at times of total eclipse. If you are lucky enough to have a clear sky, you may see this awesome sight. The sky goes dark and you will even see the brightest stars in good viewing conditions.

It's rather spectacular if you get to see a total eclipse - "eclipse chasers" travel around the world to see eclipses. There are several stages to it, first partial eclipse. Then as the moon covers the sun, you get "Bailey's beads" when light shines between gaps in the mountains around the Moon often ending with a single "diamond ring" when just a tiny patch of sun is left. Then it goes dark and the sun's corona shows and you may see the brightest stars.

And yes, if you stand in just the right place, it turns dark in the middle of the day but only for a minute or so and you have to be exactly on the eclipse track to see this too.

Second example: Solar eclipse of June 21, 2001

This one had greatest eclipse at 12:04:46 so as close to noon as makes no difference - that’s when the eclipse lasted the longest for this one.

Wikipedia has lists of eclipses, so you can follow through to find any other eclipses that you are interested in: Lists of solar eclipses

This example Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017

The maximum possible eclipse is 2 minutes 40 seconds for this one.

It’s tricky to find a place that experiences the eclipse at midday. Grand Island, Nebraska, USA Nebraska has an eclipse that starts at 12:58 and finishes at 13:01. Further east you get eclipses that start and end before midday.

But because of the transition from mountain daylight time to central daylight time, I don’t think there is anywhere that experiences a total eclipse at noon in their local time as they measure it.

If you count midday as the time of day when the sun is highest in the sky, irrespective of your time zone, then there will be a place that experiences the eclipse at that time of day though the clock may not say midday, or 1 pm or any exact time like that because of the large regions spanned by the time zones.

Here is an animated eclipse map. Notice how tiny the shadow is

And map of entire eclipse across the US

There the dark strip is the strip of totality. More detailed maps for states along the track here Total Solar Eclipse 2017 including an interactive map you can zoom into

Details here Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21 - they warn: “The eclipse predictions presented here DO NOT include the effects of mountains and valleys along the edge of the Moon. Such corrections for the lunar limb profile may shift the limits of the eclipse path north or south by ~1-3 kilometers, and change the eclipse duration by ~1-3 seconds.”

So, yes, if you stand in just the right place, it turns dark in the middle of the day in this astronomical sense but only for a minute or two, and you have to be exactly on the eclipse track to see this, and your local clocks probably won’t say midday or an exact hour of the day either.

You have to travel to the eclipse track to see a total eclipse (unless you are already on it). Most people in the US will only see the sun partly covered - a partial eclipse. But if you are on the eclipse track, you will see a total eclipse.


Perhaps rather surprisingly, it can get a fair bit cooler, a bit like night falling, but only for a short while. Here is an example from Zambia, the temperature dropped by 15 F or about 8 C. Similar to the change from day to night. That’s the air temperature not the ground temperature.

Temperature Change During Totality


The central shadow is about 70 miles wide (see Total Solar Eclipse 2017 ) and crosses the USA at varying speed, from the speed of Concorde to speeds 50% faster than Concorde could manage.

This is one of the best interactive online calculators - you can click on your location to find extra details such as the path width where you are, and the speed the shadow is moving. USA - 2017 August 21 Total Solar Eclipse - Interactive Google Map - Xavier Jubier

So for instance, its speed is 2410 mph or Mach 3.14 in Western Oregon and 1402 mph or Mach 1.83 near Charleston SC. (from How fast is the shadow moving across the US during the eclipse? )

NASA will send some jets to observe the eclipse, because it’s a chance for scientists to study the solar corona for faint details that are otherwise hard to spot. NASA has a brilliant plan to make the total solar eclipse last nearly 3 times as long. However to see the eclipse for as long as possible you need an aircraft able to keep up supersonic flight for a long time. Military supersonic jets can't do that, as they are not designed for sustained supersonic flight, but Concorde could.

In 1973 eight lucky astronomers were able to observe totality for 74 minutes in a supersonic Concorde aircraft in 1973 When Astronomers Chased a Total Eclipse in a Concorde

The French prototype Concorde 001 - which at that point was an experimental aircraft doing test flights, taking off for its 1973 eclipse mission. It flew at Mach 2.05, more than twice the speed of sound. This is Concorde 001 on its last flight on June 30th before it was retired on October 19th to the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget Airport, Paris.

It was the first Concorde to fly (on March 2nd 1969) and did 249 supersonic flights in total and had 245 hours 49 minutes of supersonic flight hours in total. See Heritage Concorde. The British prototype was 002.

Photo: Jim Lesurf

One of the specially-designed instruments for observing the composition of the sun's corona. Photo: Pierre Léna

Pierre Léna wrote a book about the mission, Racing the Moon's Shadow with Concorde 001 (Astronomers' Universe)

The Concorde prototype they used with its modified portholes is on display at the as a permanent exhibit at Le Bourget Air and Space Museum

Interviewed by motherboard vice, Léna says: "There's no aircraft flying today that would let us do what we did, nothing that can fly that fast for that long. There are military jets that can fly faster, but not with the endurance of Concorde—and of course they couldn't carry the instruments. Our record is safe for the foreseeable future."

Here is a video about their experience (in French)

Concorde Chases An Eclipse (1973) from Alex Pasternack on Vimeo.

So, yes, if you stand in just the right place, it turns dark in the middle of the day in this astronomical sense but only for a minute or two, and you have to be exactly on the eclipse track to see this, and your local clocks probably won’t say midday or an exact hour of the day either.

You have to travel to the eclipse track to see a total eclipse (unless you are already on it). Most people in the US will only see the sun partly covered - a partial eclipse. But if you are on the eclipse track, you will see a total eclipse.


It's a complete modern mythology. There are dozens of books, blog posts, fake and hoax news stories, and many youtube video channels who only run videos on the alleged approaching collision or flyby of Nibiru. 

For instance, there are 274 books on Nibiru in the Kindle store. Glad to see my "Doomsday Debunked" is on the front page as number 10. But almost all are part of this mythology, claiming that it is a real planet. There are 454 hardback books listed on the topic

There are youtube channels that earn their creators thousands of dollars a month, with millions of views total. Most have "planet X" in their title, by which they don't mean the astronomical "planet X" as in a planet way beyond Neptune, but the totally bullshit and balderdash idea of a planet that crosses the paths of all the planets from Neptune right in to Earth in a 3600 year orbit. You can get an idea of how much they must be earning from advertising from a search in SocialBlade. It's a whole minor industry based around this mythology. 

This time it is David Meade whose book claiming the world will end this autumn has become a best seller in Amazon. He is someone who just repeats many of the absurd claims on the internet without checking anything. For instance he says (in the part of his book you can read with "look inside" on Amazon)

"The Vatican is a very strange business. It owns a Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona on Mt Graham, near Tuscon."

This is the Vatican's telescope on Mount Graham:

Vatican’s telescope on Mount Graham - see Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope

The Vatican has a long term interest in astronomy - they have operated telescopes for centuries. So it's no surprise that they should set up a small modern observatory like this on Mount Graham.

This is the Large Binocular Telescope 

This is indeed one of the world’s larger optical telescopes - and one of its instruments had the acronym “LUCIFER ” at one point, changed to LUCI in 2012. It’s also on the same mountain as the Vatican’s small telescope. 

It has no connection with the Vatican. It's operated by universities in Arizona, Germany, Italy, and to a smaller extent, Ohio university, and the universities of Notre Dame, Minnesota and Virginia

It's not surprising that they are on the same mountain. Astronomers build their observatories in places of good seeing, and there are a few places in the world that are particularly good - and so, there are more telescopes there than anywhere else. 

Many conspiracy blogs repeat this myth that the giant telescope is operated by the Vatican who are somehow using it to track a planet that no other astronomers know about. He just repeats what they say in his book, and he hasn't bothered to check who actually operates this telescope, which you could find out with five minutes googling.

He says that the IRAS satellite spotted Nibiru in 1983. See Debunked: The IRAS infrared satellite found Nibiru in 1983

He says that Nibiru is only visible in infrared because it is a brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs are easy to see in visible light, if near to a star. Humans are easy to spot in pitch darkness with infrared goggles because we are warm. Does that make us invisible in daylight?

For this and many other mistakes he makes in just the first few pages of his book, see Debunked: Nibiru will hit or fly past Earth in September (or October or November) 2017 - David Meade’s “prophecy”. 

This mythology is based on ancient ideas of omens and signs and looking in sacred books for numbers. It's done much in the way that script writers make up scripts for movies, weaving together bits of astronomy and science to make a good story. If you have a good imagination it is easy to make up  astronomical sounding stories. 

Some of you may enjoy this, it’s a parody of many of the Nibiru videos, by Dazzathecameraman - shows how easy it is to make a hoax video like this.

(Dazzathecameraman)'s spoof of the sort of stories they make up.


The whole thing is just not astronomically possible. There can't be a planet headed towards Earth because it would be an unstable orbit. It couldn't have lasted for a million years and would have gone over 4.5 billion years ago.

Or, if it was a brown dwarf, or even a star with an entourage of planets, as much of this mythology claims, then Earth would have been slung out of its orbit or hit the sun billions of years ago. 

Not could be, there is no question about it. It would have happened billions of years ago. Not just Earth, also Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. None of them would last long in a system like that.

So, for this reason, astronomers when they develop ideas of extra planets, or dwarf stars or brown dwarfs in our solar system always put them in orbits with the closest point to the sun (perihelion) further away than Uranus.

It’s possible for a planet to get closer than Neptune if it is in a resonance with Neptune, though that’s hard. It’s not possible to be in a resonance with Uranus as well though, because Neptune and Uranus are not in resonance with each other.  

For that reason any planet that came closer than Uranus would be bound to pass close to either Neptune or Uranus sooner or later and be deflected into another orbit.

Pluto was the only planet X with closest point to the sun closer than Neptune. It was called "Planet X" before it was confirmed. When astronomers say "planet X" the X there stands for unknown (not ten) and it just means a planet they have not yet confirmed to exist. Most planet X's are later shown to not exist.

The only reason comets can come right into the inner solar system is because there are so many of them. There’s a continuous supply of comets coming in from the vast Oort cloud.

We may have a few distant planets beyond Neptune. It gets rapidly harder to see planets the further away they are. If a planet is ten times further away, it is a hundred times smaller in visual diameter. The sunlight that falls on it is also a hundred times fainter, and combining those effects, the dot of light we see is 10,000 times fainter. So, planets 10 or more times the distance to Neptune could be missed rather easily (depending on their size).

But we don’t have an Oort cloud of tens of thousands of planets. If we did, there’d be lots of evidence of it, planet sized impacts throughout the solar system, of all the planets that came into the solar system over the last 4.5 billion years and hit the ones already there. We don’t see these huge impacts anywhere. 

There are many craters from larger impacts, a hundred kilometers in diameter or more, but they all date from well over three billion years ago. The very largest ones are probably from well over 4 billion years ago. According to the leading theory of formation of our Moon, it formed as a result of a large planet the size of Mars hitting Earth, but that was around 4.5 billion years ago.

The largest impacts for billions of years have been from 10 km asteroids, or a little larger on Mercury, the Moon, Earth, Mars and what we have of the history of Venus since its global resurfacing through volcanism.  

So that is one of many things that make this Nibiru idea complete 

As for a star, or a brown dwarf, stars have been ruled out, even a cool red dwarf. A brown star is possible if it is unusually cold but the WISE infrared space telescope which scanned the entire sky several times, would spot a normal brown dwarf over ten light years away. It found that there are rather few brown dwarfs in our neighbourhood - only one star in six is a brown dwarf. So - all things considered, it seems increasingly unlikely that the sun has a brown dwarf companion either. 


If there was a rogue planet headed for Earth we'd have been tracking it for a decades, and it would be visible to naked eye many years in advance at least. And it can’t “hide behind the sun” - if it is behind the sun, in August, say, it will be visible all night six months later, in February, as the Earth swings around to the other side of the sun in its much faster one year orbit.

But a rogue planet is not possible either. The chance of a rogue planet even getting as close as Neptune is so small you can forget about it - rogue planets are less common than stars.

The chance of a rogue planet getting as close as Neptune in the next million years is 1 in 1.4 million - as for a rogue planet hitting Earth it's so absurdly unlikely, I didn't seem any point in calculating it.

However, just did the calculation, (radius of Neptune's orbit / radius of Earth)^2 = (4345228800/6371)2(4345228800/6371)2 = 465168275924 so it's more than 400 billion times less likely than that chance of 1 in 1.4 million per million years.


By calling it a "sign" you no longer need to provide any cause and effect connection. There is no way at all that the moon's shadow passing over Earth can cause a planet to hit Earth.  But you can say "It's a sign that a planet will hit Earth" and that seems to resonate with many people and all common sense judgement goes out of the window. "Ah it's a sign, so therefore of course it must happen".

Yes it’s a sign. Of a wonderful time for people to see a spectacle you rarely see at any given location.


It's well worth going to see if it is reasonably close to you, many people say it is a sight of a lifetime. Unless it is clouded over. In that case it just gets dark for a minute or two and you don't see anything much else.

If you do see it, then the sun gets blocked out by the moon and then you see white rays emanating from the shadow. That's the solar corona. So not totally black, you see the corona and you may see the brightest stars. If you are lucky enough to have a clear sky that is.

This can help you find the best place to see it. You need to be inside the shadow. You also need to have clear skies. So best if you can go to a place that has clear skies more often.

There is no risk at all of the Earth being destroyed or made uninhabitable by an eclipse.

However there is a small risk you could damage your eyesight by staring at the eclipsing sun. Some  people do stare at the sun without problems but doctors do see quite a few patients who have damaged or lost sight as a result of staring. You lose the sight in the middle of your vision right where you use it for reading. Sir Isaac Newton was unable to read for some time as a result of staring at the sun but luckily regained his sight. Others are not so lucky.

So I thought I'd end this article about talking about this, which is a real danger from solar eclipses.


No, not with naked eye. Some people have had their eyes damaged after staring at it for minutes, perhaps particularly susceptible for some reason. Though, according to the sources, some people have stared at the sun for minutes, and in one medical experiment, several people (who were just about to have their eyes removed to prevent spread of cancer ) stared at the sun for an hour, with no harm to the retina. So, you just don’t know which you are. That’s why staring at the sun at any time is not recommended at all and you get these warnings.

Also, that’s in full sunlight not an eclipse. We seem to be particularly susceptible to eye damage during solar eclipses - perhaps because the eye opens wide in the darker conditions, an unusual situation with darkened surroundings, staring at a small bright spot in the sky. Doctors often have to deal with cases of people who have damaged their eyes by staring at the sun, during eclipses - so don’t let it happen to you.

It’s actually the UV light, short wavelength light that seems to be what cause the most harm here.

As for looking through a telescope or binoculars at the sun - that can harm you very quickly through infrared - heat. It’s like focusing light from the sun onto something with a lens to set it on fire.

The thing is we have no pain receptors in the retina. So the first you know of it, that anything is wrong, is when you notice that your vision has been affected - that you have a spot in the center of your vision where you can’t see anything.


There are many ways to enjoy the eclipse. First the projection method. This actually happens naturally, if you are lucky enough to see it. The dapples beneath trees are actually each little images of the sun in a pinhole camera type effect from chinks in the leaves. So during a solar eclipse you see all the dapples turn to crescents like this, in ideal conditions:

Photo from here: Sun during a solar eclipse through the leaves of a tree. St. Juliens, Malta

So you can look out for those Making eclipse magic

You can also make your own simple pinhole camera to look at the sun projected onto a sheet of paper (say).

The sun from a pinhole camera is likely to be dim.

For a brighter shadow, if you have a telescope, set up your telescope to look at the sun and then project the image onto a sheet of paper. Of course never look through the telescope viewfinder at the sun.

You need to be careful you don’t damage the telescope optics. So you need some kind of a heat shield, to reduce the aperture of your telescope. Instructions here from Sky at Night.

How to make a solar projection screen

This is what it is like - you’ll see sunspots too:


What most people do is to get eclipse glasses. They make the sky very dark. You just see blackness apart from the sun.They normally tint the sun yellow-orange. It’s not really that colour at all, it’s white. But people expect it to look yellow, and so the manufacturers of these glasses tint them accordingly.

These are very low cost, just a few dollars, so it’s worth ordering a few in advance for yourself and for anyone else who might watch it with you. Or you may get them for free with an astronomy magazine. Be sure not to use them though if they have been damaged and have holes in them, even tiny chinks, and get from a reputable seller.

It is not safe to use dark plastic wrappers and the like to block out the sun. They may or may not block out the necessary frequencies and as they are not designed for that, there is no way to know.

Welding filter needs to have shade number at least 12, NASA advice here:

"If it's less than 12 (and it probably is), don't even think about using it to look at the Sun. Many people find the Sun too bright even in a Shade 12 filter, and some find the Sun too dim in a Shade 14 filter — but Shade 13 filters are uncommon and can be hard to find."

Also stacking lower grade welder glass is not safe.

Things like sunglasses and mylar balloons, food wrappers etc are definitely not safe.

It’s far easier and safer just to use the proper eclipse glasses.


You can also get a dedicated solar observing telescope or add a filter to use a normal telescope for solar observing.

Telescope owners can use a filter that goes over the the front of your telescope which blocks out 99.99% of the incoming light. However, don’t try a filter at the eyepiece end. A filter over the eyepiece can be burnt. Don’t try looking through a telescope or binoculars with eclipse glasses. They aren’t designed for that.

Some telescopes used to come with eyepiece solar filters. They are not safe, throw them out.


Here is a video on safe and unsafe ways to do it.

The only time it’s safe to look directly at the sun during an eclipse is when the rest of the sky goes dark and the sun’s corona shows. Before that you get the diamond ring effect - even though it’s just a chink of sun, it’s still not okay to stare with naked eye vision. Your pupils are wide open and your eyes are vulnerable.

You might wonder, what about all the people who stare at the sun at sunrise and sunset?

Well the sunlight gets to you almost horizontally through the thickest part of the atmosphere, and there are often clouds in the way. Even so, people don’t tend to stare at the sun for long. They look at the clouds and many other things. And unlike a total eclipse, it’s still quite light so your pupils are contracted too.

When you watch a solar eclipse, even a partial one, your attention is all on the sun, and if it is a total eclipse or close to, then your pupils will open wide.


It’s not a good idea to stare at the sun even at sunrise and sunset either - yes the light is somewhat more filtered but it’s not like looking at the sun through a safe solar filter.

You might be one of the few whose eyes are particularly susceptible to this. Some people stare at the sun as a religious observance of sungazing especially at sunrise and sunset or for their alleged health benefits. It’s an alternative healing method.

But the sun isn’t guaranteed safe at sunrise or sunset. Compare what you see at those times with what you see with eclipse glasses.

And maybe many of them do it just fine - this chap seems to have managed okay - but you might be one of the unlucky ones, as doctors occasionally see patients with eyes damaged through these religious observances.

Here is an example, of five patients treated for serious eye problems after attending a gathering of 10,000 catholics staring at the sun hoping to see a miracle. The Catholic Church warned them against attending according to this article but many did anyway and a few went blind: It's no miracle, I could see but now I am blind -

There again that’s 10,000 people and presumably they didn’t all go blind, but five, at least, did. Temporarily anyway, and some of those might have lost some of their sight, in the area used for detailed vision and reading, permanently. If you are unlucky, you could lose the ability to read through this practice, as Isaac Newton did, temporarily, or permanently.


Some practitioners from India think it is possible to live only on sunlight, without eating, and some of these engage in sungazing.

This doesn’t make scientific sense, so if they are able to do this, it’s basically a miracle, something science can’t explain. The cells at the back of our eyes may actually get a tiny amount of energy from sunlight. There are some microbes, the haloarchaea that obtain all their energy from sunlight not by photosynthesis, but by a process very similar to the way that we see. They use bacteriorhodopsin, and our eyes use rhodopsin. It’s much the same.

Lake Hillier in Western Australia, a "pink lake". It's pink partly because of the purple haloarchaea, and partly because of red carotene accumulating in a green algae dunaliella salina.

The green algae use chlorophyll. But the haloarchaea use rhodopsin and don’t fix carbon dioxide or generate oxygen but convert light directly into energy via a “proton pump” in much the way that our eyes use to see sunlight.

But that’s just one tiny bacteria subsisting off sunlight, which indeed they can do, just fine. Perhaps the cells at the back of your eye could subsist off sunlight, but not your whole body, at least not according to scientific understanding.

There’s no way, scientifically, that your entire body could subsist from photosynthesis through your eyes. See also Sungazing - RationalWiki

Also it’s not safe to stare at it through light cloud or to stare at its reflection in a mirror or in a bowl of water.

Most of the dangerous rays of light are invisible to your eyes, and for instance a cloud that blocks out the sunlight in visible light might let the dangerous UV light through.


From: Galileo, solar observing, and eye safety

“Tso and Piana asked three middle-aged people, each with an eye that was to be surgically removed to prevent the spread of malignant melanoma, to stare directly at the Sun for one hour, a day or two before the operation. To quote from their summary:

“Two of the patients sungazed with an undilated pupil, and, 24 hours later, recovered their preexposure visual acuity with no detectable scotoma. One of the patients looked at the sun with a partially dilated pupil, and 24 hours later her visual acuity dropped from 20/20 to 20/25.

“But even in that eye, whose pupil was dilated to 4 mm, acuity was back to 20/20 after another day, though the scotoma remained.

“After surgery, the eyes were examined under the microscope. Although damage to the retinal pigment epithelium was seen in every case, the photoreceptors appeared perfectly normal. The ages of the patients were 49, 55, and 57 years.

“On the other hand, there are also cases of people who stared at the Sun for only a few minutes, when it was much lower in the sky, and suffered long-lasting scotomas:”


Newton reports that he damaged his eyes to the extent that he couldn’t read, by staring at the sun, which he did repeatedly over a period of some hours, after which he stayed in total darkness for three days to try to recover. He eventually did but for some months later he still saw effects from his eye damage in dark conditions. You can read the details here: Eye problems of other early solar observers

You might well be okay like Newton eventually - but there again you might not.


It’s especially important not to look through any kind of telescope or binoculars. In that case, it’s the infrared more than the UV, it can literally burn your retina.

This is why you must not look at the sun through a telescope unless it has a properly installed solar filter:


So for most of us, the advice is to use the proper eclipse glasses to look at the sun, and only take them off for the solar corona. Or of course to look around at the crescent dapples etc. And be ready to put them back on as soon as the diamond ring effect appears again. As for projection, looking through a telescope etc - maybe you can some nearby astronomers with telescopes to show it to you through their scopes?

But you don’t need to be like David Mitchell

It’s okay to glance at the sun as happens normally in daylight. It’s staring for it for long periods that’s the issue and this is something we don’t normally do except during a solar eclipse. Normally you can just rely on what comes natural to you, it’s so bright you just look away again naturally, unless you deliberately stare at the sun, and your eyes are kept safe.

The safety tips for observing the sun are due to accidents that happen to only a few people out of thousands, (at least 5 out of 10,000 for that Catholic sun gazing miracle seeking crowd). But they do happen, which is why doctors warn us not to stare at the sun. They want us to be safe and not be one of the people in that statistic which leads to them having to treat patients with sometimes irreversible eye damage.

And - just never look through binoculars or a telescope even for a fraction of a second, except during the solar corona. When you see the corona it is safe to look even through a wide aperture high power telescope. But you need to keep an eye on the time and be sure to look away in good time, e.g. 30 seconds before totality is due to end or some such.

See also When is it "safe" to view a solar eclipse with the naked eye? Or is it best just to utilize a telescope?

This article has material from my Debunking Doomsday blog post

also from my quora answer to

See also List of the articles in my Debunking Doomsday blog to date

If you are on facebook, you can get notification of these science20 post as facebook alerts. To do that, "like" my page here: Robert Walker - Science20 Blog Alerts