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How to make a pinhole projector for a solar eclipse

One of the easiest and safest ways to view the Sun – eclipsed and uneclipsed – is to project its image on a screen using a pinhole camera or a pinhole projector.

Illustration image
The concept of a pinhole projector
A pinhole projector projects an image of the eclipse on to a sheet of paper or a wall.

You can make a pinhole camera at home using common household items.

Total Solar Eclipse: March 20, 2015

Basic pinhole projector

You will need:

  • Two sheets of plain white paper - the kinds you use for printing are perfect.
  • Or, two pieces of stiff white paper or white cardboard.
  • A thumbtack or a sharp pin.

What to do:

  1. To make a quick version of the pinhole projector, take a sheet of paper and make a very small hole in the middle of it using a pin or a thumbtack. Make sure that the hole is round and smooth.
  2. Hold this piece of paper in front of the Sun. Remember, do not look at the Sun directly!
  3. The second sheet of paper will act as a screen. Hold it at a distance so that an inverted image of the Sun is projected on it through the pinhole.
  4. To make the image of the Sun larger, move the screen away from the pinholed sheet.

Do not look at the Sun through the pinhole or through the paper. When using this kind of projector, your back must be towards the Sun.

How to protect your eyes during a solar eclipse

Illustration image

You can see the eclipse though a box pinhole projector

Pinhole projector using a box

This type of pinhole projector works on the same principle as the basic one, except it is much sturdier, easier to set on a surface (no more aching arms holding out 2 sheets of paper) and requires a few extra items to construct.

You will need:

  • A long cardboard box or tube. Any shipping box will do. If you don't have a long box, you can tape two together to make one long box. The length of the box will determine the image size - the longer the box, the larger the image.
  • Scissors.
  • Duct tape.
  • Aluminium foil.
  • A pin or a thumbtack.
  • A sharp knife or cutter.
  • Sheet of white paper.

What to do:

  1. Cut a rectangular hole on one end of the box using the sharp knife.
  2. Using the scissors, cut an equally-sized rectangular piece of the aluminium foil. Make sure it is not crinkled.
  3. Tape the foil over the rectangular hole you just made in the box.
  4. Use the pin to poke a hole in the center of the foil.
  5. Place or tape the sheet of paper at the other end of the box.
  6. Stand with your back towards the Sun. Place the box on your head with the hole towards the Sun. Adjust your position without looking at the Sun directly or through the pinhole until you see the Sun's image on the paper.
  7. Using a tube? If you are using a tube or taping two tubes together, cut the end of the tubes and tape the foil with a pinhole on one end. On the other end, tape a piece of white paper that has been cut to the shape and size of the end of the tube. This will act as the screen. Close to this end, cut a rectangular hole using the sharp knife. This will be your viewing window. With your back to the Sun, point the end with the aluminium foil towards the Sun. Look through the viewing window and you will see the eclipse on the screen.

Types of solar eclipses

Illustration image

Projector using binoculars

Pinhole projections tend to be small and fuzzy, and depend on the length of the box or tube you use and the size of the hole you make. A quickly assembled projector using binoculars or a telescope can create bigger, sharper eclipse projections. This applies the same concept as a pinhole projector using two sheets of paper. However, instead of a sheet with a hole, the Sun's image is projected through binoculars or a telescope.

You will need:

  • A pair of binoculars or a telescope.
  • A tripod.
  • Duct tape.
  • A Sheet of white paper.
  • A piece of cardboard with holes that fit the lenses of the binoculars or the telescope.

What to do:

  1. Put the binoculars or the telescope on the tripod. Use duct tape to make sure that it is steady.
  2. Tape the cardboard in front of the binoculars or the telescope so that the lenses stick out.
  3. If there are any holes or spaces between the cardboard sheet and the lenses, cover them with duct tape.
  4. Direct the binoculars towards the Sun without looking at the Sun directly.
  5. Place the sheet of the paper at a distance behind the eyepiece.
  6. It may take a few trials before you can get the best position for the binoculars. After this, the Sun's image will be projected on the paper.

Things to remember

  • Never look at the Sun directly without protective eye gear. Even sunglasses cannot protect your eyes from the damage the Sun's rays can do to them.
  • Do not look at the Sun through the pinhole or through the binoculars.
  • When using binoculars or the telescope to project the image of the eclipse, do not keep anything flammable close to the lens.
  • Always keep your back towards the Sun while looking at a pinhole or a binocular projection.

Protect your eyes when viewing a solar eclipse

Topics: Astronomy, Eclipses, Sun

In this Article


All about solar eclipses

  1. Types of solar and lunar eclipses
  2. What are solar eclipses?
  3. Total solar eclipses
  4. Partial solar eclipses
  5. Annular solar eclipses
  6. Solar eclipses in history
  7. Solar eclipse myths and superstitions
  8. Eye safety during solar eclipses
  9. Make a pinhole projector


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