Solar Eclipse – May 20, 2012

On Sunday, May 20th, the new moon will pass in front of the sun making a solar eclipse. In Southwestern Michigan the eclipse will be partial, and occur just as the sun is setting. At the moment of sunset about one-third of the sun’s surface will be covered.

If you are interested in viewing this partial solar eclipse, the best viewing sites will be along the Lake Michigan shoreline, where the lake presents an unobstructed horizon.

There is just one catch. It is very bad for your eyes to look directly at the sun. There are safe ways to view the progress of the event, and some of them are very easy to do.

The simplest way to view the eclipse is with a pinhole projection. Any object with a small hole will cast an image. Objects with multiple holes, like the key card in the illustration, will cast multiple images.

To make a simple pinhole projector, take two pieces of stiff paper (paper plates are excellent for this), and make a pinhole in one piece. Hold the pinhole up to the sun and let the light that passes through the hole fall on the other to form an image of the eclipsed sun. This will show the curved edge of the moon covering the sun.

A pinhole box will give you an even better view, as long as you don’t feel silly sitting with a box over your head. It works the same way as the two cards, but by shielding the viewing screen from outside light it gives a clearer image.

Take a large box (the larger it is, the larger the image will appear) and cut a small hole in one corner. Tape a sheet of aluminum foil over the hole and make a pinhole in the foil. On the inside of the box, opposite the pinhole, tape a sheet of white paper to serve as a screen for the image. Place the box over your head with the pinhole facing the sun… an image of the sun is projected on the screen inside the box.

For more information about safely viewing the eclipse, come to the program Crossing the Sun at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum planetarium – now showing Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun at 3:00 PM.

 

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