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Techly Explains: What happens when I stare at the sun?

Don’t do it. Seriously.

Okay, that’s out of the way. So why should you avoid looking at the sun?

Advice against staring at the sun isn’t simply because it’s rude to stare; it’s avoided because it’s dangerous. Extended sun gazing can lead to short- and long-term impairment of your vision, permanent damage to your eyes, and even blindness.

Human eyes work like a telescope or a magnifying glass, with the cornea and lens taking in all the light from the outside world and focusing it into a single point on your retina towards the back of your eyeball.

Take all the light from the sun and focus it into a single point inside your eye for an extended period of time? Well, just look at how well that works out.

Short-term damage is known as solar retinopathy, and can take the form of blurred or spotted vision, a loss of vision in the centre of your eye, or acute pain when exposed to other sources of bright light.

These symptoms will persist for a while, but depending on how long you stared at the sun, they should start to dissipate within a few minutes or hours — if they’re still sticking around after a few days, go see a doctor!

Permanent damage, on the other hand, is estimated to occur around the 100-second mark of continuous sun-gazing, though this is obviously hard to test (who wants to volunteer for a study to see when they go blind from staring at the sun?), and this timeframe will vary person-to-person and depend on the weather conditions.

The damage itself is caused by the ultraviolet (UV) light emitted by the sun, rather than the luminosity, so even on cloudy or foggy days, while the risk may be reduced, it’s still incredibly dangerous to stare at the sun.

In fact, since UV light is able to penetrate skin, and your eyelids are essentially just skin, it’s dangerous to face directly towards the sun even with your eyes closed.

In spite of all of this, there are still some people who think staring at the sun is a good thing, that maybe it’s a way to become one with the universe, or gain nourishment like a star child, or that it’s some kind of metaphorical representation of dissent against authority.

Even Sir Isaac Newton gave sun-gazing a try at one point, closing himself in a darkened room to maximise his pupil dilation and therefore maximise the possible effects (i.e.: damage) caused, before looking at the sun through a mirror with his right eye for prolonged periods.

In a letter he wrote to fellow philosopher John Locke some 27 years later, he detailed his experience, stating that he had visions of the brightness of the sun even at midnight for days following his experiment, and that even after all that time he could still conjure up visions of the star just by thinking about it.

But the psychological and physical effects did take their toll on him, and he shut himself away in a darkened room for three full days afterwards, and could not look at other bright object for several more days after that.

And after all of that, he never tried it again.

So if you’re thinking of taking up sun-gazing as a practice to provide nourishment to your body as some sort of human-photosynthesis, just remember that plants are the ones who do that, and then we use them to provide us with the aforementioned nourishment.

This is one occasion where you can’t simply cut out the middle man.

About the author

Tyler is currently based in Canberra, though he rejects this reality and enjoys immersing himself in games, technology, and comics. You can usually catch him trying to find that last shard/flag/feather.
Twitter: @FinalAlchemist

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