The May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse in motion

By Phil Plait | May 21, 2012 6:30 am

So yesterday was the annular eclipse of the Sun, and I held a live impromptu video chat on Google+ about it. I was joined by Pamela Gay, Fraser Cain, Nicole Gugliucci, and Jason Major, and we had a live video feed using astronomer Scott Lewis’s telescope. It was way too much fun! I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post.

We asked for pictures, and my Twitter feed overfloweth with them! I’m collecting them to put into a gallery which I’ll have up soon, but until then, watch this incredible video taken by John Knoll in his front yard in northern California:

Isn’t that amazing? What happened is that all the overlapping leaves made thousands of tiny holes that sunlight could poke through. This acts like a lens, focusing images of the Sun through every hole — it’s how a pinhole camera works. [UPDATE: Timothy in the comments below points out that some people were confused by my wording. I can see why; I had started to explain how a pinhole camera works then decided it was too distracting and instead just linked to Wikipedia. I didn’t mean the pinhole is a lens, just that you get a sharp picture if you use one. I should’ve chosen my words more carefully.] You can read about the details of this on Wikipedia. Here’s a similar video, too.

I’ll have the gallery up soon, so stay tuned!

Finally for now, here’s the live webcast recording. I’ll embed it here, but note it took me a long time to get it set up and running. It really gets started at 17:23, and I suggest you skim around to see the cool stuff.

Related Posts:

Ring of fire eclipse on May 20
Followup: Supereclipse
Eclipse followup part 2: tons o’ links on how to safely watch

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (11)

  1. Chris

    Can’t wait for 2017! Also can’t wait till June 5th. Plenty of time to test my setup.

  2. Inky pinkie

    If solar eclipse was a giant dragon eating the sun then we would see a lot of dragons on the wall of the house? I guess chinese people just wanted to go to the fantastic movie.

  3. DennyMo

    Bummer. I knew we weren’t going to see much in the Midwestern US, but we still built some pinhole shoebox viewers and went out on the deck where I showed the boys how to get the sun on screen. Then 10 minutes before the show was supposed to started, a wall of clouds stepped in and killjoy. :( Oh well, at least we got some much needed rain a few hours later. Hope others got a good show.

    (I’ve viewed solar eclipses under trees before, it is quite amazing how that works. I wonder what the ancients thought of the display?)

  4. Grand Lunar

    I saw a similar effect at my house in Arizona. It was the first time I saw this in person!

    In addition to the pinhole viewing method, I also used four sunglasses to view it directly.
    Probably not the smartest thing to do, however I did avoid eye damage.

  5. jrpowell

    In Seattle the sun was eclipsed all day. We call it “Overcast.” :(

  6. Chris

    @4 Grand Lunar

    We always hear about those who get eye damage, but we never hear about those who ignore the warnings and walk away unscathed. All of us have at one time or another looked at the sun either intentionally or unintentionally. Yet we can all still see. Children’s eyeballs aren’t being melted by looking at the sun. There is the blink reflex so if you have a split second view of the sun you can see the eclipse but avoid damage. The real damage occurs when you stare at it. Of course it is still not recommended since if you do that too much or too long you can definitely do damage. And you know someone will try it longer than possible then they’ll get angry and sue. So we have the general advice don’t look at the sun.

  7. Timothy from Boulder

    Just a bit of clarification on how the pinhole camera effect through the trees works … the wording given may confuse some folks who aren’t familiar with optics, or just familiar enough to say “Hey, that doesn’t sound right. What’s up?” The small holes do *not* act like a lens, focusing the image of the sun. That is, light is not refracted or bent when passing through the hole as would happen with a lens. (That’s the part that is confusing.) Instead, it is more correct to say the small holes act like a pinhole camera, projecting an image of the sun. (Projecting is not necessarily focusing.) Of course you then have to explain a pinhole camera. But it gets rid of some wording that can give a false impression to the novice.

    I’ve talked to people who have heard an explanation worded the way Phil did and then assumed that water fills in the little holes in the leaves to make lenses. They knew that something was missing so invented their own explanation that sounded plausible, completely missing the concept.

    Hope the clarification helps!

  8. Leigh in Durango, CO

    We were using the binocular+paper trick to watch the eclipse in the front yard, and immediately recognized that the strange “leaf shadows” cast by our crab apple tree exactly matched the eclipse image projected through the bino’s onto the paper. beautiful science through observation!

  9. JohnDoe

    To the guy who broadcasted the beautiful view of the Eclipse from California: there should be very little difference between stellar tracking rate and solar tracking rate, so setting up the telescope roughly, GOTO any object and then just move the sun into view with the hand controller should do the trick. To be able to GOTO the sun, one can just add the sun as an asteroid as described here (but for Meade ETX telescopes):

  10. Jeff

    Since I was a kid I’ve been watching the image of eclipses through leaves rather than through pinholes in paper, cardboard, foil, etc., but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it mentioned in media. Good job, John and Phil! I think it’s a lot more visually striking than most of the other easy observational methods.

  11. Tim

    Even poker bloggers are blogging about the shadows…


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