May 25, 2024

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Pinhole projectors and ways to view a solar eclipse without glasses

The total solar eclipse will occur in just three days, and is sure to amaze and delight the millions who see it.

Everyone in the lower 48 states will be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse, assuming the sky is clear of clouds.

To enjoy the eclipse, you don't need special equipment. Even if you can't get your hands on eclipse glasses, there are old-fashioned, low-tech ways to see them. If you're skilled and clever, the eclipse can still be an unforgettable experience.

The first rule for enjoying an eclipse is to avoid looking directly at the sun without eye protection. Even brief glances can cause lasting damage.

The only exception to this rule is for lucky viewers in the path of totality during the few minutes of totality, when the Sun is completely obscured by the Moon.

For those viewing a partial solar eclipse, even when most of the Sun's surface is obscured, the remaining visible crescent is still intensely bright and cannot be viewed safely without eye protection.

But, if you don't have eye protection, here are some safe ways to experience a partial eclipse through indirect means:

If you don't have a pair of eclipse glasses, don't worry. You can create a pinhole projector to safely observe the April 8 total solar eclipse. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

A way around looking directly at the sun is to make your own eclipse projector using a cereal box. It is a safe and great way to capture the movement of the eclipse.

Clear the kitchen counter and find the craft scissors. In addition to the cereal box, you'll need a piece of aluminum foil, masking tape, and a small nail or push pin.

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First, grab your Froot Loops — or any type of toasted cereal you like — and reserve the package. On a piece of white paper or white cardboard, trace the bottom of the box. Then cut the drawn rectangle from the paper and place it at the bottom of the open box. This is your screen on which the eclipse images will be displayed.

Cut two squares (1.5 inches should be enough) on the lid of the box and screw the lid back together. For one square, cover the hole with aluminum foil and tape it together. Gently put a pin or small hole through it, as this is the lens through which sunlight will pass. The smaller the pinhole, the clearer the displayed image.

When using your personal box stage, stay out of the sun – and let the sun's rays shine through the small pin hole. Look through the other hole in the lid to see the movement of the eclipse – during an eclipse you will see the moon taking a bite out of the sun.

Other types of small boxes — such as shoe boxes or small package boxes — work well, too. And your kids can decorate it for fun.

If you're not inclined to set up a viewing box, you can also view the partial phases of the eclipse in the shadows of trees and plants.

Small gaps between leaves, branches and pine needles act as miniature display devices. When the light passes, a small image of the sun falls to the ground. As the partial eclipse progresses, you'll see the small circles develop into sickle-shaped crescents, eventually diminishing to a small patch.

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You might consider holding a white piece of paper or poster board under a tree or plant to make it easier to spot shadows.

The leaves are not distinctive – they are good at producing small bumps. But realistically, any hole about a quarter inch wide, plus or minus, will do the trick. This means you can even walk around outside with a pasta strainer, cheese grater, or slotted serving spoon and look at its shadow. Place white paper or poster board on the floor to see the display more clearly.

You can also extend your fingers out and cross them to make about six small slits between them. Simply extend your fingers on both hands as if you were trying to do this WAnd then their overlap.