Clean Energy Insights

Viewing a Solar Eclipse From Your Own Backyard

7 minute read

On April 8, 2024, many parts of the United States will be experiencing a total or partial solar eclipse. During a solar eclipse, the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, covering the Sun as it moves along its path. A solar eclipse is a chance to visually see the relationship between the Earth, Moon, and Sun that doesn’t happen very often and only in specific locations at a time. 


A photo from the August 2017 solar eclipse from a telescope using a solar filter

Photo by Jennifer Marry


As a junior in high school, I witnessed a partial eclipse from New York City on August 21, 2017. Watching the eclipse contributed to my interest in the environment and solar energy, influencing my decision to declare Environmental Studies as my major at St. John’s University and become a RE-volv Solar Ambassador as a graduate student this year. During my time in the year-long Solar Ambassador Fellowship Program, I have most enjoyed reaching out to various nonprofits in my area, encouraging them to go solar, and have met many like-minded students nationwide a part of RE-volv's ambassador network doing similar work in their communities.

For the April 8 solar eclipse, equipped with a deeper understanding of sustainability and sun-power energy, I will be experiencing approximately 90% totality. Even though NYC isn’t experiencing a total solar eclipse, there are many ways to view a solar eclipse safely from your own home or campus. 

The Path of Totality in the United States - Source: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Pinhole Camera

One way to view a solar eclipse is by creating a pinhole camera. A pinhole camera is a type of camera that doesn’t use a lens but reflects an image using light. For our purpose, we will use the Sun's light to “capture” the image of the Moon’s passage. A pinhole is one of the most efficient ways to view an eclipse because it uses everyday items. There are a few ways to create a DIY pin-hole camera that is both inexpensive and efficient.

One way to create a pinhole camera is by using a shoebox. To use this method, remove the lid to expose the top. Flip the box upside-down so that the base of the box is towards the sky. Create a small hole using a pin or pencil on one of the shorter sides of the box. You have just created a pinhole camera! For a cleaner image, you can cut out a small square on the box’s side and tape a piece of paper over it. This would reduce fringes created by making the hole directly into the box.

To use your pinhole camera, have your back towards the Sun and have the side with the hole facing you. Look through the opened end box and adjust the angle until sunlight enters the hole (refer to the image below). As the Moon goes by the Sun, a round shadow will cross the light!


A demonstration of a shoebox pinhole camera

 before an eclipse - Photo by Jennifer Marry


You can still make a pinhole camera using other household items if you don't have a shoebox. You can achieve the same effect by poking a hole through a piece of cardboard or paper and having the image projected onto another piece of paper. If you want to see multiple projections simultaneously, you can poke numerous holes in the source material or use an object such as a colander. 

To make your homemade pinhole camera, it is essential to note that the hole size can’t be too big, or you won't be able to see the projection. Using a pin for thinner surfaces or a pencil for thicker cardboard will make a hole the proper size to see the eclipse!

A colander projection from the August 2017 solar eclipse - Photo by Jennifer Marry


Eclipse Glasses

Another way to view a solar eclipse is by ordering special eclipse glasses. These glasses are made specifically for solar eclipses so you can look at the Sun without hurting your eyes. According to the American Astronomical Society, eclipse glasses approved with ISO 12312-2 or ISO 12312-2:15 international safety standards are safe for solar eclipses. It is also crucial to ensure that the glasses are bought from a reliable brand and that the approval specifications are genuine. The AAS created a list of approved glasses, which you can find on their website here.

NOTE: Sunglasses are not considered eclipse glasses. Never look directly at the Sun without proper protection and filters. 

Solar Eclipse glasses have a film lens that filters out UV light for a solar eclipse.

Photo by Jennifer Marry


Eclipses Through Telescopes, Binoculars, and Cameras

If you want to get a close-up view of the solar eclipse, you can use special lenses to attach to telescopes, binoculars, and cameras to capture the event. Solar lenses for these devices are made differently than those used in the eclipse glasses, so you can’t put a pair of glasses over your phone camera. If you are using lens caps for telescopes or binoculars, ensure the filters DO NOT connect to the eyepiece because this could damage your eyes. The filters should always go in front of your device for your protection. In the link for the approved eclipse glasses, the AAS also includes a list of filters for telescopes and phone cameras.

NOTE: NEVER look directly at the Sun through a telescope or a pair of binoculars without a solar filter. Looking directly at the Sun can cause severe eye damage. 


If you are in a location experiencing a total solar eclipse, there will be a time when the Moon will reach its “totality,” the only time when it would be safe to look at the Sun. During this time, the Moon will be covering the face of the Sun, creating the “Crown of Light” with the Sun’s corona. It is important to note that totality only lasts a few minutes and varies based on location. Check your local outlets to find the exact time for totality in your area, and keep your observation equipment handy.


A total solar eclipse revealing the Sun’s corona - Source NASA


Not Experiencing The Eclipse? No Problem!

Unfortunately, not every location in the US will be able to view this eclipse. You might not be along its path, and we can’t control the cloud coverage for those along it. Luckily, alternative methods exist for viewing the eclipse virtually from your phone, TV, or laptop. Since the solar eclipse is a national event, media outlets across the US, such as The Weather Channel and NASA, will be doing live streams on social media and TV stations. 

Enjoy the Eclipse! 

Now, you are ready to experience the April 8 solar eclipse wherever you are located in the United States! Whether viewed virtually or in person, a solar eclipse is a natural experience that brings people together and is an event everyone can enjoy. 

Please take note of the safety requirements mentioned throughout the article. Don’t look directly at the Sun with your naked eyes or through a non-filtered device. This is to ensure that you don’t damage your eyes and so that you can enjoy the eclipse safely.

The next time a solar eclipse can be seen in the United States will be on August 23, 2044, so you have to take advantage of viewing this eclipse because it will be 20 years before the next one! 

Please feel free to share this article with others you know who would be interested in learning about the eclipse and how they can view it from home! Also, tag us on social media to share your eclipse pictures!  


About the Author

My name is Jennifer Marry, and I am a graduate student at St. John’s University studying Environmental Sustainability and Decision Making. I am the only solar ambassador in the state of New York. In my free time, I do photography, needlepoint, and I am learning German.

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