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Phony eclipse glasses seized

The elusive solar corona, seen during a 1999 eclipse of the sun
The elusive solar corona, seen during a 1999 eclipse of the sun  

LUSAKA, Zambia (CNN) -- Police in Angola have seized 5,000 pairs of phony protective glasses being sold in advance of Thursday's solar eclipse.

The glasses were being sold by "street kids" and it is believed they would cause eye damage if people viewed the eclipse through them.

Tests showed they would not protect eyes during the partial phases of the eclipse as claimed.

The eclipse hits land first in Angola and lasts longer there than any of the other countries it crosses.

In South African astronomers say the foil wrapping on a popular brand of tea may protect viewers' eyes during the eclipse.

The advice was issued by Claire Flannagan, head astronomer at the Johannesburg Planetarium, amid concerns that access to proper eclipse-viewing glasses in rural Africa is limited.

The planetarium set out to find an alternative and found that the foil wrapping of Five Roses tea, which is widely consumed in southern Africa, was a good fit.

The wrapping passed stringent tests and was the proper thickness through which to view the eclipse, Flannagan said.

"Some brands or foils don't block enough heat and others you can't see through," she said. But the Five Roses' wrapping must be folded in two to gain the proper thickness.

Flannagan also stressed that the foil was an option only if proper eye protection was not available. "It's not the brightness, you need something to block the heat," she said, adding that X-ray film, smoked glass and film negatives were not safe methods for viewing the eclipse.

The makers of Five Roses declined to comment.


Eye specialists also would not comment on the safety of the foil, but warned that eclipse watchers should not gaze at the sun for longer than 10 seconds at a time.

They also cautioned against using sunglasses and looking directly at the sun through a camera or telescope.

"Unfiltered viewing of a solar eclipse can leave you permanently blind," said Lewis Levitz, an optometrist at Oxford Eye Center in Johannesburg.

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