Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The May 2012 Solar Eclipse

May 20, 2012 was a day for which I'd been waiting for more than 2 years. I had never seen a solar eclipse before, and this one would be visible from right where I lived - who could ask for anything better than that?

I didn't worry about how to view the eclipse until the day before the event. Up until then, I thought I could view it through a telescope with a solar filter, or maybe with a pair of eclipse glasses - but on the night before the event I still had nothing, and it was too late to get anything shipped from Amazon on time. I had to come up with another plan. I knew I'd definitely be able to view it with a pinhole projector (a fancy name for a board with a tiny hole in it), but I knew from experience the image of the sun would be either small or faint. I wanted something better. I couldn't use my dad's telescope to project the image; the first time I tried that, I ended up melting the lens from the powerful focused rays. I started thinking of how I could use lenses to project light onto a white surface. Then I realized that my toy 1.25" refracting telescope I'd had since I was about 5 would project the sun's image wonderfully. My refractor lets in so little light you can hardly feel the rays of the sun focused on your finger, so melting plastic wouldn't be a problem. If things worked well, that telescope would be what I'd use.
Viewing Sunspots

Things did work well. A few hours before the eclipse began, I started trying things out. I found that a paper plate taped inside a box worked best, because ordinary paper is so thin it looks blotchy, and the paper had to be in a dark place or the projection would be too faint. In the end, my setup was so good I could even see sunspots. Looking into the box was a little awkward, but it was worth it.

A very short time after the eclipse started, I noticed some dark clouds getting dangerously close to the sun. Within a few minutes the sun was hidden. I thought it could be like that for the rest of the day, but it wasn't! The sun came out for quite a while before disappearing again, and even after that it came out yet another time before finally disappearing for good. I missed the climax, but what I saw was so close it didn't really matter. This is from a video I took with the moon partly covering the sun:

So that's the story of my viewing of the May 2012 solar eclipse. Not only did I find a safe way to view eclipses, but now I can view sunspots and the Venus transit in June.

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