A Spontaneous Solar Eclipse Viewing

Last Thursday, there was a partial solar eclipse! Part of the eclipse was visible from London, Ontario, where some of the CREATE trainees attend Western University. We all had busy days, so didn’t plan in advance to view the eclipse. No big events, no great preparation.


A closer view of the partial solar eclipse as seen from Santa Cruz, California. Those sunspots are visible in our projection!

Surprisingly, several of the students ended up finishing their day’s activities just in time for the moon’s shadow to start making its way across the sun. Not one to dismiss such an opportunity, Emily jabbed a tiny pinhole in a piece of cardboard, and ran out the door to find some buddies for a quick view of the eclipse.

You can make a pinhole camera yourself to safely view a projection of the sun. You can make much nicer ones than we made, using instructions from Sky and Telescope Magazine or buy a Sunspotter. Ours was just like this. But hey – we were in a hurry, and it worked! We tested it out the through the lab window (which conveniently faces west, toward the setting sun)… but there were too many trees in the way for us to get a good view. To the outdoors!

Emily balancing precariously on the rocks while projecting the eclipse onto Sham's paper. Astronomy in action!

Emily balancing precariously on the rocks while projecting the eclipse onto Sham’s paper. Astronomy in action!

While Sham and Jeff sprinted off to get their jackets (you can imagine how hard they had to be convinced to go see an eclipse “Right now! Let’s go!”), there was just time to put together a Learning Technologies refracting telescope kit. Thanks, Dad! I knew quick access to the pile of telescope kits in my lab would come in very handy one day. The telescope let us magnify the image that we were projecting, so we had a larger view.

There’s a very handy intersection at the Western Gates entrance to campus with a lovely view up the hill toward Brescia college, and we got a clear view of the sun from there.

The telescope projected the sun clearly onto the paper we’d brought with us. This was astronomy in action. No tripods, no fancy setup: just Sham and Emily balanced on the rocks, and people taking looks as they walked past. Jeff and Yuan Jun helpfully took most of the photos you see here.

Sham holding the paper so Emily could project the image. The eclipse is just on the left side of the sun.

A slightly closer view of the projection. The eclipse is just on the left side of the sun. Sunspots are visible towards the center of the sun!

We had a nice 10 minute astronomy session before the sun set below the tower of Brescia College. This was plenty of time to see the moon’s shadow taking a big round chunk out of the left side of the image of the sun. We even saw some huge sunspots in our projection, which was an unexpected treat! Of course, if we’d looked at spaceweather.com beforehand, the sunspots would not have been a surprise. The horizontal shadows across the sun’s image are shadows from some clouds low on the horizon; we think they add to the artsy factor in the view!

The projection of the eclipse. The bands across the top are shadows of clouds moving across the sun.

By a half-hour later, the sun had set completely, and we were all back to work crunching our atmospheric measurements.

Emily McCullough
PhD. Candidate, University of Western Ontario


About createarcticscience

The CREATE program for Arctic Atmospheric Science supports researchers and students across Canada. This blog provides a venue for sharing our experiences.
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