To savor the solar eclipse, you don't need special equipment. Go old school. Go low-tech. A partial or total eclipse can still be a memorable experience if you're crafty and canny.
As this Monday's total solar eclipse will create a ribbon of shadow stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, other locations in the continental United States will see varying degrees of a partial eclipse. You can find your specific circumstances at the U.S. Naval Observatory's Solar Eclipse Web page.
Some places closer to the eclipse path of totality will have over 90 percent of the sun covered by the moon, while other places in the Northeast and Midwest will have less than 85 percent of the sun's face covered.
For the Washington area, this event is a partial eclipse with about 80 percent of the sun obscured, according to the observatory. The eclipse starts at 1:17 p.m. Eastern time, and the middle of the eclipse occurs at 2:42 p.m. It all ends at 4:01 p.m.
The first rule of enjoying the eclipse is to never look directly at the sun, never look at the sun through a telescope or binoculars — unless these instruments have proper (emphasis on proper!) filters. Retired NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenek gets specific and warns to never look directly at the partial phases of any solar eclipse, or the maximum phases of an annular (ring of fire) solar eclipse with your unprotected or naked eye. He said that even when most of the sun's surface is blocked during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining, visible crescent is intensely bright and cannot be safely viewed without eye protection.
Here are some old-school, low-tech ideas:
Cereal Box Personal Theater
Clear the kitchen table and find the craft scissors. Have the kids make their own cereal box solar eclipse theater. It's a terrific way to capture the eclipse action and safe for viewing. You'll need a cereal box, a piece of aluminum foil, tape and a small nail or pushpin.
First, eat your Wheaties — or whatever toasted grain you prefer — and keep the box. On a white piece of paper or white cardboard, trace the bottom of the box. Then, clip out the traced rectangle from the paper and put it in the bottom of the opened box. That's your screen.
Cut out two squares (1.5 inches should suffice) on the lid of the box and then tape the lid back together. For one square, cover the hole in foil and tape it down. Gently put a pushpin or small nail hole through it, as that is your lens. The smaller the hole, the sharper the projected image.
When using your personal box theater, turn away from the sun — and let the sun's rays shine through the tiny pin hole. Look through the other hole in the lid to see the eclipse action — during the eclipse you'll see the moon biting a chunk from the sun.
Other kinds of small boxes — such as shoe boxes or small package boxes — work well, too. And over the weekend, have the kids decorate them for fun.
If you have nothing handy with which to watch, don't fret. Use your hands. Make waffle fingers! Look away from the sun and crosshatch your fingers, so they make little holes, so you can project the sun's rays onto the side of a building or sidewalk. Check these suggestions from the American Astronomical Society. Do not look at the sun through your fingers! Let your fingers work for you and project the sun onto a surface.
Everyday kitchen gadgets work beautifully. Your favorite colander, a flat cheese grater, a serving spoon with small holes all serve to project the sun onto a wall, driveway or cardboard. Do not look at the sun through colanders, graters or slotted spoons! Again, hold up your device and project the sun onto a surface.
Or, stand under a leafy tree and look to the ground. You can see hundreds of eclipse projections right at your feet.