Last Saturday, there was an annular eclipse of the sun which we could see as a partial eclipse in Colorado. You can’t look directly at the sun without protective lenses and we didn’t have any with us, so Kurt and I used low-tech methods to observe the progression of the eclipse. I loved every minute of it.

I first learned a low-tech method for safely viewing an eclipse when I was a kid. We were out driving when we realized a partial eclipse was happening, so Dad stopped the car. He pulled paper out of the glovebox and poked a small hole in it, then held it over the dashboard, moving it up and down until we could clearly see a bright crescent on the dash. It didn’t really sink in at the time what I was seeing — the moon moving between us and the sun — but it made an impression on me.

The next eclipse I experienced was as an adult in Arizona. Remembering my Dad’s trick, I decided to make a pinhole camera myself. It was a weekday, so I took a short break from work to go outside. I pricked a hole in a piece of card and held it out. The shape it made on the ground looked like a lopsided circle and I was convinced that my hole wasn’t round. I punched another one, and another one, and another one. All the bright circles made by light passing through the holes in my card had the same lopsided shape.

And that’s when I noticed it. I bunch of repeating arcs, all pointing exactly the same way, breaking up the shadows under the trees and bushes that lined the sidewalk. The lopsided shapes my pinholes were making were the image of the eclipse. My pinholes were working.

Picnic table bench with a line of bright crescents breaking up the shadow on it.  Crescents are projected image of solar eclipse.
Eclipse images made by pine trees on a picnic table bench.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore

I had a huge ah-ha in that moment. It had never occured to me before that the fuzzy circles of light under trees were in fact images of the sun, but that’s exactly what they are. You only have to look at them during an eclipse to prove this is so.

Crescent-shaped light spots breaking up the shadow on a section of dirt ground. Crescents are projected image of solar eclipse.
Subtly funky shadows made during the eclipse.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore

For every eclipse I’ve witnessed since, I’ve taken the time to look under a bush or tree to see what shadows it was making. For the eclipse on Saturday, I was surrounded by pine trees and afraid that there wouldn’t be small enough gaps (aka pinholes) between the needles to make good images. While it was true that they weren’t as sharp or obvious as they can be under deciduous plants, you could still tell the that shadows had gone strange. Weird crescents of light appeared all over the place.

Watching tree shadows wasn’t enough for me, though. I spent a crazy amount of time making pinholes with my body trying to get good images of the eclipse. I noticed even the edges of my shadow were blurry, clearly effected by the change in shape of the light source that was shining on me.

Shadow of a hand with forefinger and thumb meeting on a blue towel. A tiny light crescent shows where the finger and thumb meet.  Crescent is a projected image of solar eclipse.
Making a pinhole with my fingers.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Shadow of a human on pine-needle-covered dirt. The curled hand is held sideways. Bright crescents of light along the finger tips make it look like claws.  Crescents are projected image of solar eclipse.
Claws courtesy of the eclipse.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore
A human shadow with one arm bent up at the elbow.  Bright crescents of light to the left of the human and a line of crescents between the wrist and upper arm. Crescents are projected image of solar eclipse.
Eclipse images made with my arm and by a pine tree.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore

I also took the time to make a pinhole in a piece of card. That gave me a great sight of the eclipse, too.

Shadow of a human holding a rectangle with a bright crescent in the middle of it (projected image of solar eclipse).
Using a pinhole in a piece of card to make an image of the eclipse.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Shadow of a hand holding the corner of  a rectangle. Bright crescent in the middle of the rectangle (projected image of solar eclipse).
Close up of the eclipse image made with a pinhole in an index card.
Photo by Kit Dunsmore

For those who are wondering, there was no blog post last week because we took a few days off to go camping. I listened to the wind in the trees, a bull elk calling, pygmy nuthatches cheeping; watched osprey catch fish, magpies flash through the woods, the sun glinting off the lake; smelled pine trees, campfires, and beef stew. And of course I watched all the shadows under the trees and made pinholes with my body during the eclipse. It was incredibly healing to spend so much time just being still in a natural setting. It helped bring some color back into my world.

4 thoughts on “Safe Low-Tech Solar Eclipse Viewing”

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