If you live in the United States, no doubt you’ve heard of the solar eclipse that’s happening on August 21, 2017. What can you do to celebrate, learn, and get ready? Here are a few ideas!
Learn the Moon’s path.
Now is a great time to become a Moon-watcher. Look for it during the day and notice where it is in the sky relative to the sun. As the big day approaches, you’ll have a terrific feel for where the Moon is and why it’s causing an eclipse. Try to view the daytime Moon every day if possible—no worries if you skip a day here and there.
In just a few days you’ll start to develop a sense of its movement. Visit this website and type in your city to find out when the Moon is rising and setting for each date. The Moon rises in the East and sets in the West just like the Sun. So if you’re looking for August 1, you’ll see that the Moon doesn’t rise until about 3:30 so look for it in the eastern sky after 3:30 pm.
Use your arms.
Each time you see the Moon in the daytime sky, use one arm to point to the Moon and the other to the Sun. Take note of the angle your arms make. If you watch through the day, you should notice that the angle stays the same even as both the Sun and Moon track across the sky. After a day or two, you’ll see that the angle between them has changed. If you’re observing during the Moon’s waning phase (from full moon to new moon), you’ll notice that the angle your arms make is a little smaller each day as the Moon gets closer to the Sun in its orbit. If you’re tracking it during its waxing phase (from new moon to full) you’ll notice the opposite.
Make a lamp pinhole projector.
Everyone talks about making a pinhole projector when an eclipse comes around, but most of us have little sense of what’s really happening with such a device. Before you use a pinhole projector on the big day, try this simple activity.
- Clear light bulbs (40-60w is best, dimmer ones won’t work well)
- Push pin
- Desk lamp with metal shade
Directions: Insert the bulb in the lamp and cover the shade’s opening with foil. Dim the room (it doesn’t have to be dark) and point the light at a blank wall about two feet away. Poke holes in the foil and observe. Pinholes act like little lenses and can project images on a screen if the conditions are right. (Each pinhole will make an image of the filament.)
Make a solar pinhole projector.
A safe way to view the sun is by using a pinhole projector. Building one is a snap!
- Rectangle of thin cardboard
- Rectangle of white foam core board
- Push pin
Directions: Cut a frame from thin cardboard and tape a piece of foil in the window. Make a small, round hole with a pin. Find a white piece of foam core or cardboard to use as a screen and prop it up at an angle. Hole the projector so that it’s parallel to the screen and that the sun shines through it. You should see a small round image. Just like the lamp pinhole projector made an image of the bulb’s filament, this one makes an image of the sun. Try it out a time or two so that you’re ready when the eclipse happens. Then, instead of a round image, you’ll see a bright crescent as the moon blocks part of the sun’s light. You can find more elaborate plans for a pinhole viewer here which will give you a larger and clearer image of the sun than the simple one I’ve given directions for.
Build a model.
Once your daily observations are underway, build a model of what’s going on. Since models are a bit abstract (a stand-in for the real thing) it’s helpful for kids who are concrete thinkers to begin with the real and progress to the imaginary. I prefer to work this way whenever possible.
- Small marble (about ½”)
- Piece of paper with a dot, 1/8” drawn on
- Paper arrow to show direction of Sun
- Small hula hoop (about 25” across)
Directions: Place the hula hoop on the ground and place the marble the middle (you can substitute a paper circle if you don’t have a marble). The hoop represents the Moon’s orbital path, and the marble represents Earth. Place paper with the dot (Moon) in the correct place for today’s date. Move the Moon every day as you approach E-day.
If you have a large hula hoop (45”) use a large marble (1”) and a ¼” dot! Using this setup, the Sun would be about 55” across and about 500 ft away! It’s very rare that you see scale models of space—can you see why? They quickly become unmanageable—either the planets are so tiny as to become hard to see, or the distances are so great that the model is unusable. But I love to build them if only to give kids a more realistic idea of what’s going on.
Research and plan.
From start to finish, the eclipse event will last almost three hours. So you might want to have some games or activities for folks to do while they observe.
Look up what time the eclipse will happen in your area, it will vary a bit by where you are geographically as well as within your time zone. Make some plans about what you’ll do before, during and after.
This is a helpful map—you can click on your area, and it will tell you the start and end and point of maximum for your location. The times are given in universal time (UT), so you’ll have to convert that to your local time. This map gives a more visual sense of who’s seeing what around the country.
Order your viewing glasses.
Consider whether or not you’ll want to use these on the big day. Safely looking at the sun requires specialized filters and significant supervision. Personally, I’d be cautious about using them with younger children or even a larger group of older children. If you do choose to use them, take care that they are marked ISO (International Organization for Standardization). If you choose to use them, make sure you’ve read and followed all of the instructions!
Have a backup plan!
You know what they say about the best-laid plans… Stuff happens… it could be cloudy (or even rainy). Locate a few sites that will be live streaming the event so that you can have access that if necessary.
Gaps between tree’s leaves can act like pinholes and scatter the sun’s image on the ground. Here, Monet paints them on a girl’s dress (left) and during a solar eclipse (right).
What will you do to celebrate the solar eclipse?