5 Ways to Enjoy the Solar Eclipse Without Totality

If you aren't able to travel to one of the locations where you can view the solar eclipse in 2024, here are some ways to still experience the event.

By Daniel Johnson
Mar 14, 2024 3:00 PM
Solar eclipse pinhole viewing
(Credit: thebigland/Shutterstock)


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The total solar eclipse is approaching on April 8, 2024, and many Americans will travel to points along the geographically narrow path of totality to see it. Indeed, standing in the range of totality as the moon blocks the sun, and day turns to night, is the ideal way to experience the event — there’s nothing quite like it.

Nevertheless, millions of other Americans will have to stay closer to home for work or personal reasons and miss totality — but enjoying the event is still possible. There's still plenty to do during the deep partial eclipse that will blanket much of the continent that day. In this case, the moon might cover 80 percent or more of the sun’s disk (depending on location). You won’t see complete darkness, but you can observe a fascinating crescent sun along with a host of other effects. To that end, here are five ideas to take advantage of a partial eclipse.

Read More: Here's Your Guide to Seeing the 2024 Solar Eclipse

1. Project an Image of the Partial Eclipse

Because significant portions of sunlight remain visible during a partial solar eclipse, there’s never a safe time to look directly at the sun. Many people use eclipse glasses to solve this problem — but you can also project the eclipse, and there are multiple benefits to doing so. Projection is arguably safer, as your eyes are never aimed at the sun at all; it’s also especially nice for a group since multiple people can view the same projection at once.

Pinhole projection in particular couldn’t be easier. The supplies required are as simple as an empty cardboard tube with a tinfoil pinhole at one end and a piece of white paper at the other. The size of the projected solar image can be adjusted with the length of the tube — the longer the tube, the larger the projected image. A tube 8 feet long creates a coin-sized image. Short tubes project smaller but brighter images.

When aiming the tube, don’t look at the sun through the pinhole. Instead, watch the tube’s shadow on the ground as you make aiming adjustments — when the shadow almost disappears, a small image of the sun will appear on the paper. This takes a bit of practice, so try it out on a sunny day prior to the eclipse.

Tiny projectors like this one recommended by NASA can be made of a little more than a piece of paper. Don’t forget to photograph your projected eclipse!

2. Seek out Natural Pinhole Projections

In the same way that your pinhole projector forms an image of the crescent sun on paper, natural pinholes can be found throughout nature — often in shafts of light created by tree leaves. These natural pinholes aren’t always the perfect size or distance from the ground to create sharp images, but the general effect of hundreds of projections all over the ground — waving in the breeze — is remarkable.

(Credit: Daniel Johnson)

It’s possible to enjoy this phenomenon from a single backyard tree, but seeking out a wooded area might yield even more spectacular results. A photo was taken during the 2017 eclipse; a multitude of crescent suns are naturally projected on the trunk of a centuries old maple tree in an old growth forest.

Read More: 20 Of The Best Places To View The 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

3. Watch for Sharp Shadows and Lighting Effects

As the moon blocks the sun, the remaining light reaching earth arrives in an ever-narrowing band. This causes the light to become somewhat directional, rather than spread out evenly as normal. It doesn’t seem like that should matter much, but these lighting conditions are in fact quite striking.

Shadows that are normally undefined around the edges appear unusually sharp, with vividly precise edges. The general appearance of the environment becomes dimmer (though your eyes counter this to an extent by opening the pupils wider). When the partial eclipse is at its maximum, a curious, almost silvery “haze” becomes visible in the blue sky. The effects are simultaneously subtle and fascinating, and no equipment at all is required to observe them.

4. Participate in Real Science

If you’re eager to perform some actual science work during the event, the NASA-sponsored Eclipse Soundscapes Project is a good start. It’s a citizen science endeavor that aims to collect audio data from birds, insects, and other animals to record their reactions during the darkening environment of the eclipse.

Sometimes animals begin nocturnal activities as the sky darkens. While it might seem that you would need to be in the path of totality for these effects to be manifested, the Eclipse Soundscape Project seeks data from outside the path of totality as well, in an effort to capture the most complete dataset. The Eclipse Soundscapes Project utilizes small audio recorders to capture five days of sound data — two days prior the eclipse, and two days after to act as a baseline to compare normal animal behavior to the eclipse behavior. Participating is a chance to contribute science data to a large project — plus it’s fun.

5. Try Radio Astronomy

Finally, a simple DIY radio telescope can be used to observe the decreasing energy from the sun as the eclipse progresses. Once again, the components aren’t expensive or difficult to obtain — the “Itty Bitty Radio Telescope” project recycles a home television satellite dish into a simple device to measure solar radiation. It can be used in a creative way to observe the gradual drop in energy as the sun is eclipsed. A more complex radio telescope project useful for eclipse studies is NASA’s RadioJOVE.

Remember, there’s no substitute for experiencing totality — even a 99 percent partial isn’t the same — so if you have the opportunity to get there, it’s worth the effort. But if travel just isn’t in an option, you can still enjoy the unique experience of a partial eclipse closer to home.

Read More: Maps of Totality for the 2024 Eclipse

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