Make a Pinhole Projector

Sky Gazing author Meg Thacher shares two DIY eclipse pinhole projector projects that you can make at home.

One way to observe an eclipse is to use a pinhole projector to make an image of it. 

You will need: 

  • Scissors 
  • Sheet of plain white paper 
  • Tape 
  • Shoebox with lid 
  • Aluminum foil 
  • Pin or thumbtack 

What to do: 

  1. Cut out a rectangle of white paper and tape it to the inside of one end of the box. 
  2. On the other end of the box, cut out small square that is about 1 inch by 1 inch (2.5 cm by 2.5 cm). 
  3. Cut a piece of foil that is 2 inches by 2 inches (5 cm by 5 cm). Poke a tiny hole in the center of the foil with the pin. 
  4. Tape the foil over the square hole in the box. 
  5. Cut a door in the side of the box so that you can peek in and see the white paper screen. 
  6. Put the lid on. 

To use the projector, stand with your back to the Sun and put the box on your shoulder, with the pinhole facing the Sun. Don’t look through the pinhole at the Sun! Peek in the box through the door. Turn the box until you can see an image of the Sun on the white paper screen.  

You can use any box for this project, or a poster tube. The longer the box is, the larger the image of the Sun will be. Make sure your box is nice and dark on the inside. You can use your pinhole projector to view a solar eclipse or even very large sunspots. The image will be too small to see fine details on the Sun. 

Have you ever noticed that when you sit under a shady tree, there are little circles of sunlight on the ground among the leaf shadows? If you look under a leafy tree during an eclipse, you’ll notice that those circles are now crescent shaped! The spaces between the leaves act as pinholes and form images of the eclipsed Sun on the ground. 

A Simple Pinhole Viewer

Illustration of how to make a simple pinhole viewer using paper plates.
Pinhole Projector illustration © Hannah Bailey.

A much simpler pinhole projector can be made from two paper plates. Poke a tiny hole in one plate, and hold it above the other. The pinhole will make an image of the Sun on the bottom plate. 

Excerpted from Sky Gazing © Meg Thacher. 

Meg Thacher

Meg Thacher

About the Author

Meg Thacher is the author of Sky Gazing and Cool, Cosmic Tattoo Stars and Planets, a senior laboratory instructor in Smith College’s astronomy department and the academic director for Smith's Summer Science and Engineering Program for high schoolers. A regular contributor to national children’s science magazines, she teaches astronomy workshops for school groups and scout troops. She has a BA in physics from Carleton College and an MS in astrophysics from Iowa State. She lives in western Massachusetts. 

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