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Don't even bother challenging Kimberly Goodman, from Chicago, Illinois, to a staring contest. She'll win hands-down. Goodman can pop her eyeballs a whopping 11 millimeters (0.43 inches) beyond her eye sockets. That's a world record.

If you were to watch a video of Goodman's eye-popping stunt, you'd see her start by squinting her eyes and then widen her lids. What's she doing? "Likely, she is pulling back her eyelids," says Aaron Fay, an eye surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Like yours, each of Goodman's eyeballs is nestled into a hollow area in her skull called an eye socket. The sockets are shaped like cones, so the spherical eyeballs can't squeeze all the way back into them. Instead, the eyeballs bulge forward.

Two folds of skin and muscle--the upper and lower eyelids--protect the protruding eye. If a speck of dirt comes your way, your lids can swiftly shut. A very thin muscle in the eyelids closes the lids, while the so-called levator muscle opens them.

For Goodman, these lid muscles do more than help protect her peepers. She uses the power of her levator muscle to shoot her lids wide open. "Once she gets the edge of the eyelids behind the equator, or imaginary line around the middle of the eyeball, then the lids just slide all the way back," explains Fay. Then--POP!--the ping-pong-ball size eyeballs slip forward.

Besides her eyelid power, Fay suspects that Goodman has a natural advantage. Some people-like Goodman--have shallower eye sockets than do others, meaning that their eyeballs naturally jut out more. With that extra bulge, she does not have to pull back her eyelids as far before they reach the midpoint.

Eye tricks like hers, however, can be very dangerous, says Fay. Normally when you blink, special glands douse your eyeballs with tears. But with her lids pinned back, her eyes could get dried out. Plus, Goodman risks damaging the delicate muscles that move her eyeballs around.

Luckily, Goodman only holds her eye trick for a few seconds before shutting her lids.
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Title Annotation:physiology
Author:Bryner, Jeanna
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Jan 16, 2006
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