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Starts With A Bang

4 easy eclipse activities for North and South America

On Saturday, October 14, a solar eclipse crosses North and South America. Here are 4 quick, easy, low-tech activities for everyone to enjoy!
A group of children engaging in eclipse activities by wearing sunglasses and looking at the sun.
Wearing ISO-certified eclipse glasses will block 99.997% of the visible light, allowing you to safely look at the partially-eclipsed Sun during the daytime. Eclipse glasses or equivalent protection is required to avoid eye damage during the viewing of a total solar eclipse. Note that "comfortable clothing" at the start of an eclipse might not be comfortable during the duration of the eclipse, as temperatures may drop significantly.
NASA / ScienceCast
Key Takeaways
  • On October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse is occurring over North and South America: a prelude to next year's total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
  • Even though most locations across North and South America are only going to experience a partial solar eclipse, there are a number of fun, easy activities you can engage in to experience it.
  • From recording temperature drops to seeing the Moon's disk pass in front of the Sun and much more, here are some low-tech activities anyone can enjoy.

On October 14, 2023, a solar eclipse will occur on Earth.

solar and annular eclipses
When, during a new Moon phase, the Sun, Moon, and Earth all line up in a row, a solar eclipse is possible. Whether the eclipse is a total eclipse (top) or an annular eclipse (bottom) is wholly dependent on the relative angular sizes of the Sun and Moon to an observer on Earth.
Credit: Ben Gibson/Big Think

With the Moon near apogee, however, the Sun appears larger.

moon sun aphelion perihelion apogee perigee
Right now, the largest (perigee) full Moon appears bigger than the Sun at all times of the year. However, over time, the Moon will migrate away, causing its angular diameter to shrink. When the perigee full Moon is smaller than the aphelion Sun, no total solar eclipses can occur anymore. The Moon varies by a much greater amount in angular size than the Sun owing to its more eccentric orbit around the Earth compared to Earth’s around the Sun.
Credit: Ehsan Rostamizadeh/Astrobin

The result is an annular eclipse for locations along the center-line.

A solar eclipse with a ring in the sky, perfect for eclipse enthusiasts seeking unique activities.
Along the center-line of an annular eclipse, during the moment of mid-eclipse, the “ring of fire” feature will create a perfectly circular annulus of the portion of the Sun that cannot be eclipsed by the Moon. This photo was taken during the May, 2012 annular eclipse.
Credit: Kevin Baird/flickr

However, nearly all North and South Americans will experience a partial eclipse.

A map showing the location of an annular eclipse.
This shows the path of the October 14, 2023 annular solar eclipse across North and South America. Observers within the red band will be in the path of annularity and will be able to observe a “ring of fire,” while those outside of it in the other shaded regions will only observe a partial solar eclipse. Almost all North and South Americans will get at least a partial eclipse.
Credit: Time and Date

Here are four fun, easy, and educational activities for enjoying during a partial eclipse.

solar eclipse 1999 mir
This image, from Mir during the 1999 solar eclipse, shows a dark shadow of the Moon appearing on Earth. Right along the center-line of the eclipse, either a total solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse will be seen, while everyone still within any portion of the Moon’s extended shadow will experience a partial eclipse.
Credit: Mir 27 Crew/CNES

1.) View the Sun directly.

A group of people engaged in eclipse activities on the grass.
Either eclipse glasses, solar filters, or welder’s shades (that are at least shade 14 or darker) are all tools that humans can leverage to view the Sun directly during a partial or annular solar eclipse, or even during no eclipse at all.
Credit: GPA Photo Archive

You can do this any time with eclipse glasses, even with no eclipse.

eclipse glasses
The eclipse glasses that many of us obtain can be used at any time, even not during an eclipse, to view the disk of the Sun directly.
Credit: NASA/Mamta Patel Nagaraja

For superior views, put a solar filter on the outer lens of binoculars or a telescope.

woman tripod eclipse binoculars solar filter
A woman looks at the Sun through binoculars that have been fitted with solar filters. Binoculars and telescopes can only be used to look at the Sun when used with solar filters specially designed for that purpose placed so that they completely cover the OUTER lens(es) of your binoculars/telescope.
Credit: NASA/Ryan Milligan

2.) Create a projection of the Sun.

pinhole camera solar eclipse
This shows an example of a pinhole camera: where a tiny hole is poked into an otherwise opaque surface to allow just a “point” of sunlight to shine through. As the sunlight lands on the far end of the box shown here, it creates an image, or projection, of the Sun. This is especially useful during a partial eclipse.
Credit: WSLS 10/NBC

The easiest, lowest-tech way is to build a pinhole camera.

pinhole camera diagram
Although there are many ways to construct a pinhole camera, so long as you have an opaque surface with a small hole in it to let sunlight through, and then a surface/screen to project that “pinhole” of light onto without letting too much stray light in, you should be able to see an (inverted) image of the Sun on the screen.
Credit: NASA

Projecting through binoculars/telescopes can create superior, large, magnified projections.

binoculars projection solar eclipse
If you want to view a magnified projection of the Sun, either during a solar eclipse or at any other time, one simple solution is to mount binoculars onto a tripod and open only one eyepiece, letting the light through. The projected image of the Sun will be large enough to view any visible sunspots as well.
Credit: Jamie Carter

3.) Observe partially eclipsed shadows.

The shadow of a tree creates an eclipse-like effect on the sidewalk.
During a partial (or annular) solar eclipse, the normal shadows you’d see through the leaves of a tree instead make a crescent (or ring) like shape, as the spaces in between the tree leaves act like tiny pinhole cameras, projecting the image of the eclipsed Sun onto the surfaces beneath them.
Credit: Dewi Morgan/Quora

Where sunlight “pokes” through shadows, eclipsed images appear.

colander project partial solar eclipse
During a partial solar eclipse, any circular hole that sunlight shines through won’t produce a circular image, but rather a projection of the partially eclipsed Sun: showing the Moon’s disk partially in front of it.
Credit: Joy Ng

Colanders, kitchen skimmers, tree leaves, and criss-crossed fingers create fascinating sights.

fingers crossed solar eclipse
The lowest-tech way to observe a projection of the Sun during a partial solar eclipse is to cross your fingers together, over your head, with your back facing toward the Sun. You’ll then see, in the spaces between your fingers, small images of the partially eclipsed Sun, rather than the more typical sight of a full Sun.
Credit: Ms. Q/Freerange Stock

4.) Measure the outside temperature.

temperature eclipse
By recording the temperature before the eclipse starts, then periodically through maximum eclipse and afterward until the final phase of the eclipse ends, you can monitor the severity and timing of any temperature drops in your location.
Credit: WKYT/CBS

As the Moon blocks the Sun’s light, it also blocks the Sun’s heat.

august 21 2017 total solar eclipse prediction
The downward solar radiation as modeled by NOAA for the most recent total solar eclipse over North America: on August 21, 2017. This map shows the prediction for the effects on temperature during the total solar eclipse. The diagram shows the solar irradiance reaching Earth’s surface over time.
Credit: NOAA / Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Temperatures can drop by up to 28 °F (16 °C) during a total eclipse; by less during partial eclipses.

temperature change zambia eclipse 2001
By recording the temperature in regular (e.g., 5 minute) intervals during a solar eclipse, a temperature change can be observed. The coldest temperatures don’t typically occur during maximum eclipse, but slightly afterward.
Credit: Dr. Mitzi Adams NASA/MSFC

Find your exact eclipse times by location here.

partial eclipse sunset
This partial solar eclipse, captured over Arlington, VA in 2021, shows the Moon’s disk partially blotting out the Sun. Because, at this moment, the Moon is close to apogee, it appears smaller in angular size than the Sun, and therefore a total solar eclipse is not possible.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

For those experiencing totality next year, October provides a great “practice run” for these activities.

map path totality eclipse april 8 2024
The path of totality of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse cuts from southwest Mexico up through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Canada. Everyone along the center-line of the eclipse in 2024 will also experience at least a partial eclipse on October 14, 2023.
Credit: Great American Eclipse, LLC

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