A total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the United States on Monday, August 21st… but even if you don’t live in a place where the moon totally blocks out the sun, there’s a good chance you’ll experience a partial solar eclipse. Vox has a nifty tool that lets you enter your zip code to find out what the view will look like near you… and what time the eclipse begins, peaks, and ends.

Since it’s not safe to look directly at the sun (even when it’s partially blocked), there’s been a run on eclipse glasses which protect your eyes. The odds of finding a decent (and affordable) pair that will ship between now and Monday are rather slim.

But there’s another option: build a pinhole camera from a piece of cardboard or poster board and a sheet of aluminum foil.


In a nutshell, all you need to do is cut out a hole in a firm board, cover it with foil, and then poke a hole in that foil with a pin. That’s your camera.

Next, you need something for it to project onto. Any old white surface should do, such as another piece of poster board or even a sheet of paper.

When you want to view the sun, just hold the pinhole camera so that the sun is shining at the hole, and position it so that you see an image of the sun shining onto your white surface, which could be placed in the ground… or a more creative place.

For instance, here’s a tutorial that shows how to make one of the most basic pinhole camera systems imaginable, with just two sheets of poster board and a piece of foil.

Or for a more immersive experience, you can create a wearable viewer from a cardboard box. The “camera” hole is behind your head, and the viewing surface in front of your face, allowing you to get a good look at the reflection of the sun.

You don’t have to wait until Monday to test your camera. Since it show an image of the sun, you can use it any time our nearest star is visible in the sky. It’ll just look a lot cooler when the moon passes in front of it and the reflection starts to change shape.

Oh, and one cool thing you can do with a pinhole camera that you cannot do with eclipse glasses? You can poke multiple holes and view multiple versions of the sun (and eventual eclipse) at the same time.

Too lazy to go outside on Monday? You can also watch NASA’s live coverage online.

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One reply on “Low-tech: Make a pinhole camera to watch the solar eclipse on August 21st”

  1. Somebody missed an opportunity. I can imagine a cheap USB webcam with an appropriate lens and filter and tripod and some simple viewing/capture software for grabbing ~ 640×640 stills and video. They could have sold a ton of these, esp. if the optics could be changed out for other use: non-eclipse solar viewing, microscope, etc.

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