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Solar Eclipse and My Burning Retinas

how to view a solar eclipse

Keep the sun behind you. How to safely view a solar eclipse.

I couldn’t stop myself. I had to look! It’s like scratching an itch. Sticking your tongue deep into a cold sore. Picking a pimple. Licking your chapped lips. I had to look at the sun during the solar eclipse!  My husband even said, as we were dropping him off from work, ‘They say it’s really really bad to look directly at the sun.’  So, what did I do? I promptly looked up at the blinding sun and got an image of the solar eclipse burned into my retina. I only looked at it for a split second, but that was enough. You can’t see the eclipse during the split second that you’re destroying your eyes looking at the sun, but you can see it afterwards as this blue-ish floating image bouncing around over everything you try to look at.  ‘I CAN SEE IT, I CAN SEE IT!!!  IT’S BURNED INTO MY EYEBALL NOW!’ Art was a bit concerned…’Kate… you can really hurt your eyes that way. I’m too scared, I’m not doing it.’  And then, I did it like 5 more times, I COULDN’T HELP MYSELF!

Some people stare at the sun just as it’s setting or rising. They take their shoes off so that they are touching the ground and that’s how they ‘eat’. They don’t eat food, they eat sun prana. I’m not kidding, google it. I figured, if they can do, surely at 7am in the morning when I was doing it, wasn’t too bad, right? Anyway…  There was some astronomer guy way back when who went blind from looking at the sun, but I believe he somehow rigged his eyes to stay open (um, there’s a reason why we automatically look away from it) in the hopes that he could learn more about the sun.

How to Make a Pinhole Camera

It’s very easy to view a solar eclipse WITHOUT burning your retina.  It takes you two seconds to make a device called a pinhole camera and all you need are two pieces of paper and a pin.

Poke a pin in the center of one of the pieces of paper. Dig the pin around to make the hole a bit bigger if you want. Hold the piece of paper with the hole in it up to the sun (off to your side), and put the other, un-punctured, piece of paper behind the piece of paper with a hole in it. What you get is an image of the solar eclipse. The image is upside down and reversed.

Solar eclipse pinhole camera

If there were no eclipse happening, there would be a perfect circle of light from the sun hitting the paper.  But, because there is a solar eclipse,  the moon is covering part of the sun.  That’s why it appears to look like a crescent.

Sometimes it gets a bit confusing. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes in between us (the Earth) and the Sun. This rarely happens and when it does, depending on where YOU are located on the Earth and a few other factors, like the path of the moon, etc. you can either have a partial or full eclipse. Here, since I’m a science teacher, I made a drawing because my baby is asleep and my big kid is at kindy, and I am a nerd.

Solar Eclipse

The dark shadow is where you would see a full eclipse. Only a tiny location on Earth gets to see that! The lighter shadow is where you would experience a partial eclipse, and that’s much more visible to many more people

Partial solar eclipses are fairly common, maybe once a year, but to get a good one, or a full solar eclipse, you have to wait years and years! The last one I properly remember was when I was 13 years old and we were standing outside of Hackettstown Middle School in New Jersey.  Even in a partial eclipse, you notice the sun’s rays are a bit diminished. A partial solar eclipse leaves you in a world that looks like you’re looking through tinted shades.  A full eclipse, which I’ve never seen, can actually leave you in the dark!

A little off topic, but cool anyways, is the concept of the pinhole camera.  It works the same way that your eyes work. A tiny hole letting in light.  You retina is the ‘screen’. Just like in the pinhole camera, the paper without the hole is the ‘screen’. Your brain is actually the thing that flips the image to correct it, so that you’re not seeing upside down and reverse. Another drawing… the baby is taking a very long nap.

How the eye flips and image

This is how your eye and brain work to see.

A camera works the same way, there is a tiny hole in the lens that lets light in and the image is burned onto a screen, upside down and reversed.

You can also use a pinhole camera to view really cool and rare events like the transit of Venus the same way… but you’ll have to wait something like 138 years for that one… We got to see it for real, on some guy’s telescope at school, this was a photo I took of it with my camera looking through the lens of the telescope! You need a special solar filter to be able to look at the sun through a telescope.

Venus in transit

Venus in transit

Anyway, this particular solar eclipse, I think we had 65% of the sun blocked?  Maybe 80%, I can’t remember. It was sort of nice though, because the sun here, in Australia is very intense.  I think I would always like it to be at 65% Australian sun strength. Happy Solar Eclipse Day! Next time you get to see a solar eclipse, don’t burn your retina like I did, make a pinhole camera instead!

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