Looking Down to Look Up

Who knew? The chances of solid cloud cover were roughly 67% for April 8, but it turned out to be a lovely, sunny spring day with no pressing work to do that afternoon. I did not have eclipse glasses on hand, nor did I have a telescope handy. But I did have a strainer and a ring light that I use for Zoom meetings with a phone mount and a remote to click the shutter in the Camera app—I know there’s no longer a shutter, but what is that button called?

A noodle skimmer is a kitchen spoon that has a 4 1/4-inch-diameter, very shallow bowl to scoop things out of a hot pot. It has five concentric rings of holes around a central hole. The holes are roughly 1/8 inch in diameter each.
My eclipse-shadow filter—a noodle skimmer pressed into astronomical service. Photographed on April 20, 2024.

I set up around 2 p.m., just after the moon’s shadow made first contact with the sun, and fooled around with pinhole viewers, including a milk carton setup. Focusing the shadows turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. I was concerned that the noodle skimmer holes would be too large to be useful—somehow forgetting the gorgeous shadows I had seen in a previous partial eclipse through holey leaves—but they were good enough to have fun.
As we approached totality, the sky got a deeper blue—it was a little eerie. I was surprised at how light it still was—it was nearly sunrise dark. I can’t say that I noticed behavioral changes in the birds around me, but they are already under extreme stress from my municipality’s building boom.
While we weren’t in the path of totality, 98.6% of the sun would be covered at maximum. Ten minutes before totality, the shadows looked like robust crescents.

Moon shadows across the sun at 3:03 p.m. EDT, ten minutes before totality, through a noodle skimmer. Photographed on April 8, 2024.

Within three minutes (!!), the moon shadow reduced the sun to overlapping slivers of crescents.

Moon shadows across the sun at 3:06 p.m. EDT, seven minutes before totality, through a noodle skimmer. Photographed on April 8, 2024.

I tried the pinhole-in-the foil method—a pierced foil square taped over a hole in the bottom of a milk carton. I cut the bottom off the milk carton at an angle, hoping I would be able to perch it on my sketchpad, but the problem of the day was focal length, so I just held it up and moved it up and down until I got something within reason.

This photograph shows shadows: my hand holding the milk carton with the pierced foil.
This is the slim crescent that is left when the moon covers 98.6% of the surface of the sun! Photographed at 3:13 p.m., as near to totality as we got, on April 8, 2024.

I stepped inside several minutes later and was surprised by the light play on the back hall floor—these are the sun crescents and moon shadows from my neighbor’s pear tree branches:

Sun crescents and moon shadows through tree branches on the back-hall floor. Photographed at 3:26 p.m. on April 8, 2024.

This was a lot of fun, and kept me busy enough that I was not tempted to look up.

So, when is the next eclipse? Timeanddate.com gives the dates of eclipses, among many other time-related services; for southeastern Michigan, the next partial solar eclipse with more than half the sun in shadow will be on January 14, 2029. Brrr. The next annular eclipse is 25 years from now, and the next total eclipse is a long way off. However, the next total lunar eclipse is March 14, 2025, and it will cover all of North America. That’s something to look forward to.