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!
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
There are other methods to do this, but I find this setup gives you the clearest, brightest, and largest projected image.
You will need:
- A tripod
- Box knife
- 2 sheets of white foam board
- Masking tape
- Duct tape
- Binocular tripod mount (or string, rope, more duct tape, etc)
Step 3: Prepare the Sun Shield
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
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!
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
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!
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