Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse, May 20, 2012


When I was young, I remember watching an eclipse in the schoolyard at Lagunitas School with the naked eye. But then, we also watched the skyline when they set off an atomic bomb at Jackass Flats, NV.

I can still see fine (maybe little auras here and there) but I've no idea what damage it caused. But then, I'm also long past the crossroads of denial that I need reading glasses.

During the 1990s, I got more sophistocated and used stacks of UV sunglasses for filters and even a stint with mylar anti-static hard drive bags (see my 2009 post).

Someone took a photo of me wearing funny mylar eclipse glasses for the total Hawaiian eclipse in 1991. I actually bought a square of mylar for my camera too—for $20. Number 14 welding glasses were not a practical option.

But simple pinhole cameras are the safest and easiest way to view an eclipse. A cylindrical Quaker cardboard oatmeal mush box is the easiest to make. Punch a hole at the bottom end with a pencil at one end, and use the lid to project the light.

Your lens aperture—the width of a pencil seems to work fine—but you can use other objects to create lens size. The smoother the hole, like with a knitting needle, the crisper the edge. But you don't need a perfect lens to view the eclipse.

No oatmeal box? A paperback book cover will work. Punch a hole in the middle, use other cover underneath to focus it. Pulp fiction never looked so good.

Your crossed fingers will make eclipses. A colander works fine too. The holes are just the right size. Even those reading glasses will project an image onto paper—and quite possibly start a fire.

I'm sure the ancients discovered that trees also make great spontaneous pinhole cameras—especially long-needled eucaluptus. Oak trees too. The dappled light between the leaves will make images of myriad eclipses on the ground. You just have to know what you're looking at. And how to bring it into focus.

You can use cardboard or paper to "focus" the parallax position of the image. Move it up and down between ground and tree leaves to focus it until you find the sweet spot.

How I know this: In 1979, I was in my kitchen in Cotati, and I noticed strange crescents crawling on the wall in the shadow of my hanging plant—a succulent.

At first I thought they were ants or an outburst of spiders and tried to swat them away and then I thought I was having a really weird flashback or completely losing my mind as I had no idea there was an eclipse happening.

I put two and two (or sun and moon) together and ran outside, camera in hand—but the wall was more interesting. I scurried all over the yard tracking little myriad eclipse shadows. The photos weren't all that interesting but I was thrilled beyond belief by my "new" discovery.


Enjoy today's eclipse but safeguard your eyes. They're the only ones you got. And check the local time. Not Mountain Time like I did in 2009 when I was madly staring into the midday sun an hour after the eclipse had come and gone.

Further reading: I delved indepth on the process of chasing eclipses in another post: Partial Eclipse, 7/21/2009. I even invoked Sir Isaac Newton's "Opticks."

ScienceCasts: Solar Eclipse in the USA 


How to make a pinhole camera from the Exploratorium.

Timeline via The Daily Mail. It'll pass over Reno & Redding at 5:12 to 5:15 PM. The full annular eclipse will last about 5 minutes. The rest of us will see a partial eclipse. I've never seen an annular eclipse and unfortunately I'll be at work today...so I don't hold much hope of glimpsing it on paper, or otherwise.


NB: as it turned out, my "lunch" break was during the height of the eclipse and many of my coworkers abandoned ship for the parking lot. So I was able to get many photos of shadows. 


Interesting, the shadows were all blurry as the light was coming from two different sources/directions—the moon split the light. Also, as the sun went into the eclipse, the wind picked up, like during the total eclipse in Hawaii. Then it died completely during totality. The birds definitely went to sleep early, so it was eerily quiet, and our skin was cold to the touch as there was very little heat coming from the sun. 


I had several blurred people photos, not realizing that though there was plenty of light for the eye to see, the camera was not fooled. I didn't realize this until I uploaded the jpgs and then noticed in the images that all the parking light and the security night lights were on—at 6 PM!



UMBRA, CITY OF REFUGE, HAWAII, 7/11/91

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