This Woman Literally Burned a Crescent-Shaped Mark On Her Retina During the Solar Eclipse
Image by JAMA Ophthalmology/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai
Scientists were baffled by what they found on the 26-year-old’s eye
If you thought all the warnings about wearing proper eye protection during the solar eclipse last August were overhyped, talk to 26-year-old Nia Payne— she actually burned the shape of a crescent moon onto her retina after staring at the solar eclipse without proper eye protection. Good news, it gave scientists their first look at what exactly happens at the cellular level when an unprotected eye stares at a solar eclipse. Bad new, possibly irreversible eye damage for Payne.
According to a new study just published in JAMA Ophthalmology, Payne, like so many others, wanted to try to catch a glimpse of the August 21 solar eclipse. Only problem was, she didn’t have the right glasses. But she stepped outside into the Staten Island daylight anyway and looked up at the sun for (reportedly) six seconds. Then she looked away and borrowed some glasses from a neighbor and proceeded to stare at the eclipse for another 20 or so seconds. But it turns out the glasses she used weren’t made for viewing solar eclipses.
Payne started noticed blurred vision and color distortion only hours after the eclipse was over. She also saw a black spot in her left eye. Three days later, Payne took herself to the emergency room because she was still seeing spots. From there, she was referred to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. They asked her to draw a shape of the spot she was seeing in the middle of her vision. The shape? A crescent — just like the solar eclipse.
The incident warranted a case study not because of the novelty that Payne stared at the solar eclipse without glasses (plenty of people probably did that), but because of what scientists found when they looked a little closer into her eyes— the actual shape of a crescent burned into her retinas.
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Avnish Deobhakta, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Mount Sinai and co-author of the study, told The Washington Post that the findings were particularly important because they could help find a treatment for this kind of injury, which is not just exclusive to solar eclipses. According to the Post article, “laser pointers that kids and pet owners often play with can cause similar injuries.”
At this time, there is no treatment for this type of injury, so while Payne may be seeing spots for the unforeseeable future, at least her very unfortunate circumstance helped make some sort of scientific breakthrough. As for everyone else, please, don’t stare at the sun, and when the next solar eclipse comes around on April 8, 2024, make sure you’re using the right glasses.