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How to View a Solar Eclipse, Sunspots, or the Transit of Venus!

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Viewing an eclipse or other solar event is great fun, and an excellent way to involve kids in learning about science.  I'm writing this on the evening of May 20, 2012, just after a great annular (ring) solar eclipse, and in anticipation of of the June 5/6 transit of Venus.  My daughter and I watched the eclipse, and we're planning on watching the transit in a couple of weeks.  Don't let yourself or your kids miss that Venus transit, there won't be another one for 105 years!

If you live in North America like me, you're going to have to wait awhile for the next eclipse--we won't see one until 2017.  There are several around the world between now and then though, click here for a list of solar eclipses up to 2020.

Besides eclipses and transits, we are currently headed into a solar maximum, a time of greater sunspot activity.  Using this method, you can view the sunspots as the move and change across the face of the sun.

To start, here's a quick summary video:



 
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Step 1: WARNING!

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Whatever you do, don't look through the eyepiece at the sun!  Just staring at the sun unaided can damage your vision, looking at it through a magnifier like this can burn your eye! 

In fact, have caution around the eyepiece at all times, you run the risk of burning your skin or even setting something on fire!

Step 2: Gather Materials

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There are other methods to do this, but I find this setup gives you the clearest, brightest, and largest projected image.

You will need:
  • Binoculars
  • A tripod
  • Box knife
  • Scissors
  • 2 sheets of white foam board
  • Masking tape
  • Duct tape
  • Pencil
  • Binocular tripod mount (or string, rope, more duct tape, etc)
I used my crumby old binoculars for this, as you can overheat and damage them.  So keep that in mind!

Step 3: Prepare the Sun Shield

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Place the binoculars in the middle of one of the foam boards and trace around the lenses.

Use the box knife and scissors to cut out two holes.  Make them just large enough for the lenses, a nice interference fit is best.

Step 4: Attach the Binoculars

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Leave one lens cap on, you really only need a monocular for this.  Tape off the ends of the binoculars with masking tape, unless you don't mind duct tape goo on your stuff!

Tape the binoculars into the sun shield foam board on both the back and the front.  Mount the binoculars on the tripod, and you're ready!



Step 5: Project!

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Carefully align the binoculars with the sun.  Over the course of viewing, you will have to move the binoculars to track the sun as it moves across the sky.

Hold your other piece of foam board about a foot or so behind the lens.  If you've got the binoculars pointed properly, an image of the sun should appear!  Take a look below for some of the pictures I took of the process.

I did this on a cloudy day.  The clouds were fairly thin and high for most of the eclipse, so it wasn't too bad of a problem, but towards the end heavier clouds started rolling in.  I noticed that as the clouds thinned I was able to move the board further from the binoculars, projecting a larger and more clear image.  On a day with no clouds, you should be able to hold the board quite far from the binoculars, making a very large and detailed image!

Step 6: Final Thoughts

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When I first checked the weather report for this Sunday, I thought I was in for another astronomical event spoiled by the Oregon weather.  However, as the time for the eclipse approached I decided it would be worth it to at least try.  I'm really glad I did, and I hope you do as well!  Post pictures you take of eclipses, sunspots, or the upcoming Venus transit in the comments below and I'll send you a digital patch!

Thanks as always for stopping by to read my instructable!  Please also take a moment to rate and subscribe, and post  any comments below.  I love to hear back from my readers! 
This is great! Thanks for posting it. I rigged one up myself with an old piece of foam board that has some aluminum foil on one side. Would you recommend taking this off or leaving it on? I assume it would cut down on some glare, but I have no idea. Also, do you need eye protection when looking at the projected image?
depotdevoid (author)  CynicalUnicorn2 years ago
Hi CynicalUnicorn, sorry I missed this until just now! I'm not sure about the foil, I think it'll be fine. As long as you're not looking into the binocs you don't need eye protection (at least, not as far as I know!
zimzum713 years ago
very nice......and a welding visor is a good alternative, easy and comfy to wear aswell, but only if you know what the shade rating is on the visor, i think 13 is borderline...
Thanks for the heads up on the Venus transit I would have had no idea otherwise
depotdevoid (author)  pyrateroberts3 years ago
I hope you get a chance to see it!
i viewed it throughout a 13 shade welding mask.
depotdevoid (author)  snowluck23453 years ago
A lot of people have told me that. I like my method because you can get some magnification, which will be good for sunspots and the Venus transit.

Still, I wish I'd bought a welding mask, it would have been nice to have an alternate method!
mikeasaurus3 years ago
Great way to indirectly view the eclipse. Awesome pictures!
depotdevoid (author)  mikeasaurus3 years ago
Thanks! I'm planning on updating with some sunspot pictures and pictures of the Venus transit, if the weather cooperates.
I had a special filter for direct viewing, but I like this method more. I hope you get pictures of Venus, I totally want to see that!
seamster3 years ago
Nice work! I had something like this set up as well last night. We were able to view about 95% of the full ring from where i live. If we'd have driven about two hours south we could have seen the full, symmetrical ring. Anyhow, it was still awesome and my kids got a kick out it. I don't know anything about this Venus Transit you speak of, so i'm going to have to look into it. Thanks for the heads up!
depotdevoid (author)  seamster3 years ago
By the way, I'd like to hear back if you see that transit!
depotdevoid (author)  seamster3 years ago
I got maybe 75% at best, still pretty awesome! My dad down in southern Oregon got to see the full ring, I'm jealous!
This is very nicely done!

I was working on something similar this weekend but sadly, we had clouds at sunset so I did not get to see even the partial eclipse as the sun was setting.

There is supposed to be a partial view of a transit of Venus here in 3 weeks, so I can try for that as well as look for sunspots.
depotdevoid (author)  CatTrampoline3 years ago
Thanks! You should try for Venus, you'll never have another chance!
Konradecai3 years ago
Good idea to use the binoculars. Personally, I would a recommend a welding mask if you have one. I worked amazing for me. Every one of my neighbors wanted to take a look through it.
depotdevoid (author)  Konradecai3 years ago
Good idea! Sadly, I didn't have one and had to make due with what was on hand!