Arts & Crafts

How to Make a DIY Box Pinhole Projector to Watch the Eclipse

We have August 21, 2017, marked on our calendar. Do you? North America is expecting a major solar eclipse that day. While it won’t be a total eclipse in Vancouver, as per NASA we’ll get about 88% occlusion here. That’s not bad at all!

Here’s how much you can expect to see depending on where you’re located. Click the map to see a bigger version.

Click to see larger image. Source: NASA

WARNING: Looking directly at the sun, even while eclipsed, can cause permanent eye damage.

Looking directly at the sun, even while eclipsed, is dangerous. When too much light floods the eye, the overstimulated photoreceptors on the retina on the back of your eyeball release chemicals that can damage the retina. This solar or photic retinopathy can result in permanent damage or potentially even blindness. Unfortunately, this process is often painless so you don’t even know what’s happening until the damage is done.

Most of the time, this isn’t a big issue because reasonable people don’t tend to walk around staring into the sun for long periods of time. But we need to be especially careful during a solar eclipse since the moon’s shadow makes it easier to look directly at the sun (and it’s natural to want to watch the action!).

There are several options for viewing the eclipse safely like special eclipse glasses, eclipse binoculars, or a filter for your telescope. (Sunglasses don’t count!) But the easiest, cheapest option is a simple pinhole projector.

I remember making a box pinhole projector back in elementary school on our last major solar eclipse, so when we found out about this one coming up, the girls and I decided to make a projector of our own. This box pinhole projector is quick and easy to make from supplies you already have at home: a cardboard box, a sheet of white paper, aluminum foil, and tape. You’ll also need a utility knife or scissors, masking tape or duct tape, and a pin.

First, find a cardboard box that you can fit over your head. The longer the box, the larger the image of the eclipse will be. Tape a sheet of white paper inside of the box, on the short side that you will be facing.

Next, cut a small hole on the opposite side as your white paper, high up enough that your head won’t get in the way of light coming in through the hole. Use opaque tape like masking tape, painter’s tape, or duct tape to seal up all the edges and corners of the box so no light leaks in.

Cut out a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the hole you just cut and tape it over the hole. Make sure the tin foil is smooth and crinkle-free.

Then make a tiny hole (the pinhole) in the foil with a pin or thumbtack. That’s it!

To use your homemade pinhole projector put the box over your head and face away from the sun. Angle your body and your box so the sunlight comes in through the pinhole and projects a small inverted image of the sun on the sheet of paper.

Not gonna lie, it looks goofy, but at least nobody’s going blind!

You’ll be able to see the image of the sun on the paper gradually being swallowed up by the moon’s shadow.

For group viewing, you can skip the box and just use two pieces of card stock. Make a pinhole in the first card and hold it in your hand, angled so the sun shines through the hole and projects its image on the second card taped to the wall or on the floor. This is the simplest way to safely view the eclipse, but don’t expect the image to be anywhere near as bright as the one in our handy dandy box pinhole projector.

Happy viewing!

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