(NEXSTAR) – Just months after many Americans got a glimpse of the so-called “ring of fire” annular eclipse, a total solar eclipse will darken skies over numerous states on April 8, 2024.
As exciting as the event will be for millions of Americans, eclipses also have a history of myths and misconceptions.
Since eclipses themselves pre-date the scientific breakthroughs that allow us to understand and predict them, so do some of humanity’s early beliefs about eclipses.
“Some older ideas seem remarkably resistant to replacement by the more scientifically-correct explanations,” NASA wrote on a page dedicated to dispelling those myths.
In no particular order, here are a few of the most popular ones:
1. The sun’s rays are more dangerous
Dr. Kelly Korreck, NASA’s program manager for solar eclipses, told Nexstar that a recurring theme has to do with sunlight.
“One common one that comes to mind is that somehow the sun’s light and rays that come from the sun are dangerous or different during an eclipse and they’re not,” Korreck said. “So they there’s no extra precautions you need besides the normal sunscreen that you put on on any sunny day.”
Korreck added that the only extra precaution you need is to protect your eyes while looking at the eclipse.
“It’s actually a really unique time to be outside,” Korreck said. “To watch the animals react and to watch the different shadows and how the light changes around you.”
2. Radiation blindness
This myth is tied to electromagnetic radiation, seen as light and sometimes accompanied by a green hue, that emits from the sun’s atmosphere during a total solar eclipse. The radiation, which has drawn scientific study for centuries, is a million times fainter than the light of the sun, according to NASA.
“…There is nothing in the coronal light that could cross 150 million kilometers of space, penetrate our dense atmosphere, and cause blindness,” NASA writes, adding that retinal damage is possible if you stare directly at the sun before it is completely obscured.
3. Pregnancy complications
This misconception grew around another form of radiation that travels to Earth from the sun – neutrinos, born from the nuclear fusion that lights the sun – shoot into space and pass through the moon and Earth.
“Every second, your body is pelted by trillions of these neutrinos no matter if the sun is above or below the horizon,” according to NASA. “The only consequence is that every few minutes a few atoms in your body are transmuted into a different isotope by absorbing a neutrino.”
The neutrinos won’t hurt us, or any unborn children, as they zip through the atmosphere.
However, the superstition persists. Texas Public Radio spoke with the manager of Papa Jim’s Botanica in South San Antonio, Yuly Garcia, who said there are several rituals and superstitions in Mexican culture around pregnancy and solar eclipses.
“They say pregnant women should wear a safety pin on their belly,” Garcia said. “For babies, when they’re newborns, they say that you could put a pair of scissors opened in the form of a cross under the bed or under the crib. And it’s basically protection. For the safety pin on the belly when a pregnancy is taking place, this is going to prevent for when the baby’s born, to be born with a blue eye. That’s what they say.”
4. A ‘Peanuts’ mix-up
The beloved “Peanuts” comic strip had an unfortunate hand in disseminating a falsehood about eclipses in 1963, according to Space.com.
Charles Schulz, the cartoonist who introduced the nation to Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and the rest of the gang, published a strip in which the character Linus says, “There is no safe method for looking directly at an eclipse, and it is especially dangerous when it is a total eclipse.”
In fact, it is possible to look at the sun without eye protection when it is completely blocked by the moon, however it is never safe to look at the sun during an annular eclipse, which will occur Saturday.
“Space.com columnist and night sky expert Joe Rao said he deeply laments that this eclipse myth was spread by Schultz — so much so that Rao wrote a children’s book to help dispel it,” according to the website.
5. Eclipses will poison food
Along with other fears focused on solar rays during an eclipse, NASA notes another falsehood claiming that radiation will harm your food.
“The basic idea is that total solar eclipses are terrifying and their ghostly green coronae look frightening, so it is natural to want to make up fearful stories about them and look for coincidences among events around you,” NASA writes.
A myth centered around tainted food could of course spread if there happened to be an incident of food poisoning on the day of the eclipse, despite others at the same place not being sickened, NASA notes.