1. Look at an illustration and gather your materials.
Look at the illustration: Total Solar Eclipse. What happens during a solar eclipse? The moon moves between the sun and the Earth and blocks our view of the sun. Gather the materials you’ll need to build a viewer that will allow you to safely and indirectly view the sun during a solar eclipse. Remember to never look directly at the sun, even during a total solar eclipse. Looking directly at the sun can quickly result in permanent eye damage or blindness. Only do this activity with adult supervision.
2. Build the main body of the solar eclipse viewer.
Lay the cardboard tubes end-to-end. They should measure approximately 1 meter (3.28 feet). Tape the sections together, making sure to keep the gaps in the tubes closed and light out of the seams. If needed, tape colored construction paper over the seams.
3. Create covers for the openings.
Hold one tube perpendicular to the white paper and trace the end to draw two circles that can cover both openings. Cut each circle out. Tape one circle to one of the openings. Cut a square in the center of the other circle. Cut a square of aluminum foil and tape it over the square cut from the circle. Gently push the pushpin through the center of the foil to create a very small hole. Tape the paper/foil circle to the opposite end of the tube.
4. Cut out a viewing area.
Cut a small rectangle (approximately 3 centimeters x 1.5 centimeters) near the end of the tube without the foil. This will be your viewing area. Your solar eclipse viewer is now ready.
5. Safely observe the sun.
Stand facing away from the sun. Lift the viewer hole to your eye and point the tube over your shoulder in the direction of the sun. Try to find the sun’s image on the paper, looking through the viewing hole. When your pinhole camera is pointed properly at the sun, you will see a small spot of light on the paper. The size of the spot will depend on the length of your pinhole camera. If you have difficulty finding the sun’s image, which will be a small and possibly faint spot of light on the paper, try this: Look at the shadow that your pinhole camera tube casts on the ground and move the camera around until its shadow is as small as possible. When the tube is pointed directly at the sun, its shadow will be at its smallest.
6. Sketch what you see.
Draw what you see on a piece of paper. If you do this activity when there is not a solar eclipse, you can still use the pinhole cameras to look at the sun’s projection and identify sunspots or possibly even observe a solar flare. Share your drawings with family members and tell them about what you observed.
What happens during a solar eclipse?
Materials You Provide
- 2 pieces of stiff, white cardboard
- Aluminum foil
- Colored construction paper
- Duct tape or other strong tape
- Hole puncher
- Paper towel or wrapping paper tubes
- Push pins
- White card stock or construction paper
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
- Internet Access: Required
- Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
- Plug-Ins: Flash
Recommended Prior Activities
The best part of a solar eclipse is the dramatic view of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, which we can see only when the brilliant solar disk is blocked by the moon. The corona is not just light shining from around the disk: it is actually the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere. The corona shows up as pearly white streamers, whose shape is dependent on the sun's current magnetic fields. Because of this, every eclipse is unique. A solar eclipse is only visible from a small area of Earth and happens infrequently.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry atmosphere Noun
layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.
Encyclopedic Entry: atmosphere corona Noun
outermost part of the sun or another star's atmosphere.
coronal mass ejection Noun
huge burst of solar wind and other charged particles.
width of a circle.
large region around the sun affected by the sun's magnetic field and the solar wind.
Kelvin scale Noun
scale for measuring temperature where zero Kelvin is absolute zero, the absence of all energy.
partial shadow between the full shadow (umbra) and full illumination on an eclipsed body during an eclipse.
lowest visible layer of a star and the boundary from which the star's diameter is measured.
solar eclipse Noun
event when the sun is blocked by the moon passing between it and the Earth.
solar flare Noun
explosion in the sun's atmosphere, which releases a burst of energy and charged particles into the solar system.
dark, cooler area on the surface of the sun that can move, change, and disappear over time.
period during an eclipse when light from the eclipsed body is completely blocked.
moon's shadow that covers the sun during a solar eclipse.