A solar eclipse is coming for the first day of classes, but don’t look at the sun

The 2.5-hour eclipse will peak at around 10:21 a.m. in Los Angeles

On Monday, Aug. 21, Tommy Trojan will experience his first transcontinental solar eclipse since his arrival at what is now Hahn Plaza in 1930. The celestial phenomenon also happens to fall on the first day of classes, so students should consider adding one more thing to their back-to-school list: a pair of solar eclipse glasses.

The historic event, dubbed "The Great American Eclipse," will start at 9 a.m. and last about 2.5 hours, with the maximum eclipse in Los Angeles taking place at around 10:21 a.m., according to the Griffith Observatory.

Solar eclipse glasses are designed to protect your eyes while looking at the sun. Several locations and retailers like select public libraries in LA County, 7-Eleven, the Stellar Emporium Gift Shop at the Griffith Observatory and Warby Parker locations across the Los Angeles area are selling and giving away a pair to those who expect to watch the event. USC Dornsife will also host a viewing party for USC students on Monday morning with a limited supply of the solar spectacles.

But what happens if a student decides to brave the eclipse without a pair of glasses?

"One thing nobody should absolutely do is look at the sun directly," said Dr. Hossein Ameri, assistant professor at the USC Roski Eye Institute at Keck Medicine of USC. "In the Los Angeles area, we are not going to experience the full eclipse, so at no time is it safe to look at the eclipse without protection."

Students should look for glasses that are approved by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Astronomical Society or NASA, Ameri said. They should also have the ISO 12312-2 standard printed on the side of the glasses, which makes viewing anything but the bright light of the sun nearly impossible.

"People [are] putting two or three sunglasses on top of each other and looking at the sun. That is not going to work," Ameri said. "These glasses are really so dark that when you put it on and look at the sun, you see the only sun or a bright light in front of you."

Some students, like Jordan Williams, plan to resort to DIY methods for viewing the eclipse.

"I was supposed to buy some glasses for it over at Roski," Williams said. "They're making pinhole cameras to take a picture of them, but I didn't finish making mine, so still have to sort that part of it out."

Ameri said opting out of solar eclipse glasses is like using a magnifying glass to burn a piece of paper with the sun.

"The eye actually has its own magnifier; that's how we see objects," Ameri said. "[It is] a very powerful magnifier that burns – instead of a piece of paper – burns your own tissue, which is the retina. Once that is damaged, you cannot see what is in front of you."

To prevent permanent eye damage, experts say to find a pair of solar eclipse glasses or make a pinhole projector. And for those who experience injuries, Ameri recommends seeing an ophthalmologist or retinal specialist as soon as possible.

"Unfortunately there is no proven treatment, but they should see a specialist to make sure it is related to [the eclipse] and nothing else," he said.