Pinhole Viewer

The Great American Eclipse is almost here and this pinhole viewer is a super easy way to watch the moon travel in front of the sun.  Here in California, we will only get about 75% totality but we will get to experience the crescent shapes that the sun will make.  So how do we make this pinhole viewer?  Grab a shoebox and read on!

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • shoebox
  • scissors
  • box cutter
  • aluminum foil
  • white and black paper
  • tape
  • nail

To Make the pinhole viewer:

You will need to cut two holes on the small side of your shoebox.  One will be a small viewing hole and the other is a larger hole where the pinhole will be.  I used a box cutter for this step and let the kids finish off with the scissors.

Large hole for pinhole

Left hole = pinhole, right hole = viewing hole

Next, open the box and tape white paper opposite from the side the viewing holes were cut.  This is where you will see the light from the sun and the change in shape as the moon passes in front.

Cut a square piece of foil that will cover the larger hole that you made.  Tape it over the hole.

Using a nail, poke a hole in the center of the foil.

Our box had some extra holes in it that might allow extra light.  These need to be covered up.

Tape black paper over any holes in the box that might allow extra light in.

That’s it!  You’re done.

How to use it:

Test it out by standing with your back to the sun and look into the viewing hole.  Angle the box until you see a bright white circle inside.  That’s the image of the sun.  During the eclipse, you will see the circle change in shape to a crescent.

Other ways to experience the eclipse:

Use a strainer or criss cross your hands together so there are holes in between your fingers that allow light through.  During the eclipse, you will watch these circle of light change shape.

REMEMBER: NEVER look directly at the sun!  It can permanently damage your eyes and your eyesight.

Science Behind the Activity:

A total solar eclipse is a rare event where the sun and the moon and the Earth line up just perfectly so that the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and only the halo of light around the sun (the corona) is visible.  A solar eclipse can only occur when we have a “new moon”.  By contrast, a lunar eclipse occurs only during a full moon and that occurs when the Earth’s shadow comes in between the moon and the sun to block sunlight from hitting the moon.

I used the following models to help my young kids understand what is happening.  Note that these are not scientifically accurate with respect to size and distance but for very young kids, this is about all they can process.

Partial Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

Total Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

This shows how the Earth moves around the sun and the moon moves around the Earth

If you are lucky enough to see a total solar eclipse, you will be able to view the sun with your eyes only during the 2-3 minutes of totality (the moon’s shadow covering the sun completely).  Otherwise, during a partial solar eclipse, you can not view it any time without special solar glasses or else you can permanently damage your eyes.

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