Total Eclipse in USA 21 August 2017

Using a mirror as a pinhole to produce an image of the sun

Any Solar Eclipse (total, partial, annular) can be viewed easily and cheaply by a reflected pinhole.
The same method is used for viewing the Transit of Venus
and for viewing sunspots - or even just for looking at the sun.

This technique was used to observe the Transit of Venus in Trinity College Cambridge on 3 June 2004. The advantage is that a large number of people can watch at the same time. Several other methods for viewing the Transit were available, but the simplest and safest was the "reflected pinhole", described below. It was also used to observe the Partial Eclipse on 3 October 2005.

Eye Safety - do not look at the sun directly

The simplest and safest method to produce a clear image of the Transit is to use a 'reflected pinhole' which is just a small mirror, as shown here, blacked out with tape leaving a small square, say 5mm x 5mm (1/4" x 1/4") (the smaller the square the sharper the image, but it will be less bright). If you reflect the sunlight through the window onto the wall of a darkened room then you get a perfect circle which is the disc of the sun. The mirror needs to be about 30 metres (30 yards) away from the wall to get a sharp image. You should use a smaller square (pinhole) if you want a shorter distance. Use some putty or plasticene to fix the mirror to a table, chair, wall or post - the mirror needs to be held still to prevent the image from wobbling.

The method has many advantages:

  • cheap - all you need is any old (bit of) mirror and some tape.
  • safe - observations are made in a darkened room, away from the sun (no sunburn!)
  • perfect for mass viewing - many people can stand around and admire!
  • easy to explain - no complex optics
  • perfect for all solar observation (transits, sunspots and eclipses)
  • really fun, safe and easy for children

    Now all you have to hope for is a sunny day ...

  • A mirror, taped over to leave a 5mm x 5mm square

    Image reflected into darkened room

    1. Images using the "reflected pinhole"

    The “pinhole” is actually a small piece of mirror about 5mm square, 30m away from the screen

    The "reflected pinhole" images here were produced using a novel design of pinhole camera, devised by Dr Hugh Hunt. The drawback of conventional pinhole cameras is that the size of pinhole required to generate a sharp image is so small that diffraction effects destroy the clarity of the image. It is also difficult to project the image onto a screen outdoors where there is bright sunlight.

    The method employed here is to use a piece of mirror to reflect an image of the sun through the window of a darkened room. A "pinhole" was created by blanking out with plastic tape all but a 5mm square portion of a mirror. If you want a sharp image then the square should be small, but the image will then be less bright - so there is a trade-off. The 5mm (1/4") square works OK when the mirror is about 30 metres (30 yards) away from the screen (any wall will do). The mirror has to be held quite still. We used a retort stand from a chemistry lab here, but the mirror can be held in place using putty or plasticene.

    The system was motivated by a similar 'reflected pinhole' concept used previously to observe the 1999 solar eclipse, when any passer by with a mirror in their handbag was encouraged to reflect an image of the solar disk onto the wall of Great Gate. The resolution of such a projected image is limited by the size of the mirror. For instance, a 4cm square mirror will produce an image which is blurred to the order of 4cm. To decide if this is good enough, consider that the sun subtends an angle of roughly 0.5 degrees so that when projected through a pinhole to a screen at a distance of 10m the image of the solar disc will be around 10cm in diameter [subtended angle in radians x distance]. The resolution of 4cm was then OK to see the eclipse since the disc of the moon was large in relation to the disc of the sun (the same size, in fact). Since Venus is so much smaller than the moon (about 1/32 the size as viewed during the transit), a very much smaller mirror is required to give a clear image. But a small mirror means less light - hence the need for a darkened room. Also, to improve resolution the projected distance was increased to 30m giving a projected solar disc diameter of around 30cm.

    Various people assembled viewing the pinhole image

    The darkened room used for this purpose was the Old College Office Meeting Room. A dark cloth was used to blackout the window where the reflected image enters.

    There are some more photos of this setup at

    2. images through Richard Serjeantson’s 4-inch Meade telescope with solar filter

    and a simple digital camera (Olympus C-220 Zoom)

    images taken as Venus is about to leave the solar disc

    images taken about 90 minutes after the start of the Transit

    3. Images using Solarscope

    (a commercially-available device for safe viewing of the sun)

    Jonathan Hunt, aged 1

    Ricardo the cat, aged 13


    a good image of venus

    Sandy Hunt aged 7, on his birthday

    General views of the day

    Sir Martin Rees,Master of Trinity and Astronomer Royal

    Hugh Hunt

    Richard Serjeantson and his 90mm Meade

    Early morning observers – around 7am

  • Hugh Hunt's home page full of Dynamics videos:

    hemh1 (at)