Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Be careful with those lasers, celebrants.
CNN has called the Star Shower Laser Light “this year's frenzy,” and let me tell you—this product is perfect for the very lazy, very effusive holiday enthusiast. If you can still find this popular gadget in stores, you shell out $39.99, plop it in front of your house, and hit the switch. Voila: Instant, beautiful pinpricks of colorful light that cover up to 600 square feet, according to the company. Santa should have no trouble finding you this year.
Unless he’s approaching from the sky. Los Angeles’s local NBC affiliate reports that a Coast Guard pilot was temporarily blinded when the Star Shower’s lasers made a direct hit on his cockpit.
Here’s how Sgt. Morrie Zager, a pilot with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, described the feeling of getting a laser in your eye while flying a plane:
"You experience what's called a flash blindness. Everything goes away except green. The worst part about it is the pain. It can cause anything from a mild distraction to a complete incapacitation of the pilot resulting in the aircraft crashing."
ABC aviation expert Jim Nance warns that direct laser hits—particularly those from green lasers—can permanently wreck pilots’ vision:
The potential for getting hit by one of these lasers and ending up with permanent eye damage, I'm afraid, is very high. If you happen to linger on it for just a couple of microseconds, that might be enough to completely wreck your retina. That could put a pilot out of the business of flying.
The Coast Guard plane did end up landing safely, but Star Shower’s manufacturers are reminding users to read the dang directions and be careful while using lasers. Decorators who live within 10 nautical miles of an airport should lower the angle of the laser’s projection, the company stresses in its instructions. “Star Shower Laser Lights are compliant with FDA regulations governing lasers and with Consumer Product Safety standards,” the company said in a statement to NBC.
Laser strikes on airplanes and helicopters often go up around the holidays, as children and adult fools test out laser gifts on the sky. Laser strikes have become such a problem for pilots that the FBI ran a two-month reward program in 2014 that promised $10,000 for information “that leads to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft.”
The real moral of the story: Be smart out there, light lovers.