On August 21, 2017, many in the U.S. will get a chance to glimpse a fantastic event. The moon will pass between Earth and the sun, blocking its light. It will create a solar eclipse—the first seen in the continental U.S. in 38 years!
The eclipse is a rare opportunity to share one of the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena with your children. To help your family prepare for this stellar light show, try this fun and easy activity that will allow you to safely see the eclipse.
MAKE AN ECLIPSE VIEWER
To view the eclipse directly, you’ll need specially designed glasses or equipment such as these Sun Catcher Sunglasses From Explore Scientific. That’s because looking right at the sun’s powerful rays—even during an eclipse—can damage your eyes. But you and your children can watch the event indirectly and safely by making your own eclipse viewer with materials found right in your home.
- 2 pieces of heavy white paper
- aluminum foil
- straight or safety pin
Step 1: Build It
- Cut a 7.6-by-7.6 centimeter (3-by-3 inch) square hole in the center of 1 piece of paper.
- Cut out a slightly larger piece of foil to cover the hole in the paper. Tape the foil in place.
- Use the pin to poke a tiny hole in the center of the foil. Your viewer is ready!
Step 2: Test It
- Before the eclipse, stand with the sun behind you. Place the second sheet of paper on the ground in front of you.
- Hold your viewer so it’s parallel to the ground. Shift or tilt the viewer so the sun shines through the pinhole onto the paper below. Ask your children: What do you see projected on the paper? (Answer: A tiny image of the sun.)
- Hold your viewer farther away from the paper on the ground. Ask: What changed? (The image of the sun became bigger.) Try holding the viewer closer to the paper on the ground. Ask: What happened now? (The image became smaller.)
- Repeat Steps 1 and 2 with the paper on the ground in a sunny spot and then in a shady spot. Which placement makes the sun image clearer? (The image is clearer when the paper is darkened by a shadow.)
Step 3: Watch It
- Find out when and how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to see in your area by visiting NASA’s official eclipse website: eclipse2017.nasa.gov.
- When it’s time to view the eclipse, follow the same steps you used to test your viewer and the method that produced the clearest projection of the sun.
- Watch what happens to the image seen through your viewer as the moon moves in front of the sun. Ask your children to describe what they see and to use what they know about eclipses to explain what’s happening.
Always view the sun SAFELY: To directly watch the eclipse, everyone in your family MUST wear solar-filtered eclipse glasses or use telescopes made for observation of the sun. Even looking at the sun momentarily can cause irreversible damage to your eyes. It’s important that your children have the right gear to view the eclipse—and know how to use it.
If you can, visit an area that will experience the TOTAL eclipse: This summer’s solar eclipse can be partially observed coast-to-coast. But a total eclipse—when the moon completely obscures the sun—will only be visible in portions of 14 states across the U.S. You may not have to go far to see it, but plan ahead: there are many people traveling to watch this rare occurrence.
LEARN about the eclipse together: In advance of the big day, spend time learning about what will happen during the eclipse. As a family, research some of the special phenomena you might see, such as the diamond ring effect, Baily’s Beads, and the sun’s corona. The more you involve your children, the more their excitement will grow.
Turn your experience into a family SCIENCE discussion: A solar eclipse is a rare event. You’ll want your children to take it all in. Encourage them to make careful observations during the eclipse, particularly in the moments leading up to the total eclipse. During the total eclipse, it will become as dark as night for a few seconds and the sun’s stunning corona will become visible. Encourage your children to share what they see and have learned.
* Tips adapted from explorescientificusa.com