Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Is A Solar Eclipse Safe?
Name: vicki s maiden
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1993 - 1999

I am writing from Munhall School in St. Charles, Il. My principal needs to know if it is safe for the students to view the eclipse on May 10? Is there a safe way to view it. We need to know ASAP. Thank you.

There are good writeups about this in the May issue of both Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines. It is NOT safe to look directly at this eclipse; it is an annular (not a total) eclipse, which means that even at maximum coverage of the sun by the moon, there is a ring (or near-ring) of bright sun ar ound the moon which can cause damage if it is stared at unprotected. (Needless to day, you should not view this eclipse through binoculars or a telescope either!) The magazines mentioned above describe eye protection that is adequate for safety; they emphas ize that sunglasses, smoked glass, crossed polarized lenses and other similar "protection" are NOT adequate. A safe way to view the eclipse is to use the "pinhole camera" principle to project an image of the eclipse and observe this image. This may be done using something as simple as a large piece of thin opaque cardboard having a small hole; the image will be within the shadow of the cardboard. A bit more sophisticated setup: use a long box such as a shoebox, with a removable lid. Punch a small hole in one end, and glue a piece of white paper on the inside of the box covering the side opposite the hole. To view, turn the box upside down, hold it over your head, and "point" the end with the hole toward th e sun. the image will be projected onto the white paper. A word about the hole - the smaller the hole, the sharper but dimmer will be the image. A larger hole will produce a brighter but fuzzier image. (See p. 94 of the May issue of Astronomy for a more complicat ed box arrangement that makes for improved viewing.) A good compromise is a hole about 2 mm in diameter, but you should experiment for yourself. Some writers suggest cutting a piece out of the "hole" end of the box and covering this with a piece of foil, b ecause it is very thin but opaque and allows a very small pinhole to be made. (This is also a good way to salvage your box and make a new hole if you've inadvertently made the hole too large.) In any case, the image will be small - less than a centimeter i n diameter (the longer the box, the larger but dimmer the image will be). But it's the shape of the image that is interesting; the size shouldn't really matter, as long as it's large enough to see. Good luck!

RC Winther

Click here to return to the Astronomy Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory
n b