The Ring of Fire : Solar Eclipse 2012 / How To View An Eclipse

 ”I fell into a burning of fire

I went down, down, down and the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire

The ring of fire… ” – Johnny Cash



The “ring of fire” has a lot more meaning than the popular 1963 song by Johnny Cash, repopularized by the 2005 movie, “Walk the Line”.   That’s what scientists are calling this latest full solar eclipse.  It is a full annular (ring) eclipse of the sun, that only happens every few decades or so — depending on where you live.   The hydrogen based fire of the sun is eclipsed by the shadow of the moon revolving around the Earth, such that the moon appears to be a small dark shadow with a slightly smaller diameter than the bright, radioactive sun.  This most recent eclipse happens to have “peaked” both in certain parts of Asia and certain parts of the US, separated by 12 hours or more of time zone.   It resembled a “ring of fire” because it looked just like the sun was a burning ring of fire, with a moon in the middle of it.

The moon revolves around the Earth such that it has a full rotation to the same point around Earth around every 27.3 days (a sidereal  month), in large part because it is 385,000 km away from the center of the Earth.   So, it doesn’t move as fast as the Earth can turn around one full axis (24 hrs).  Furthermore, the sun pulls at the moon with over twice the strength of the Earth.  So, the moon’s orbit around the Earth changes all the time, and as such, given all the different variables it can be very difficult to determine when a solar eclipse will occur.

At THL Asia, based in Taipei, despite relatively rainy and stormy weather, we were able to see the solar eclipse at around 6:46 AM, which was slightly after its supposed peak.  However, our view of the eclipse was not quite the same as south of us – in Vietnam or Southern Fujian Province (where the author of this blog normally lives these days); we had only a partial solar eclipse, in between the clouds due to lots of increased year over year rain activity.

Normal, cloudy view of rainy Houshanpi – same mountain as below

According to most doctors and scientists, you should not look into the sun directly, eclipse or not, because it is harmful to the eyes.  So, we at THL Asia used 3 different types of filtration methods to see the solar eclipse and document its progress along its pathway, which lasted a total of 1.5-2 hours.


The first method we tried was the pinhole method, in which you poke a 1mm diameter hole in a piece of cardboard (either solid thin cardboard like you find in the back of calendars or cereal/packaging boxes, or even corrugated cardboard, if you are careful), and shine it on a piece of white paper from a few inches away.  Generally this 1mm thickness is the thickness of a ballpoint pen tip, but can be plus or minus.

The cardboard & pinholes used for the eclipse viewing experiment, compared to a US penny and 1 New Taiwan Dollar (NTD)

So, try different objects like paperclips, clothespines etc.  Make sure you try things than generate perfect circles — and make sure you do multiple holes an inch or so apart so you can shine it on a standard piece of 8.5×11″ or equivalent white paper to see the results are all the same.  These are the results we achieved (Note the brighter ones were actually the larger pinholes — but the clear ones were the smaller pinholes.  Too small of a diameter shows nothing at all; so you should experiment to find what diameter works best for you):

Cardboard-pinhole reflections of the solar eclipse against a white piece of paper, a few inches below a piece of cardboard with various small holes


View of the pinhole cardboard against a white piece of paper underneath — held 7-9 in apart; pictures taken from different angles will show different sizes/proportions  of circles/ellipses.

The second method we tried was reflecting the sun from a high clarity mirror to a white wall, through the pinholes on the same piece of cardboard.  Multiple pinholes were made, of various diameters, ranging from needles to pen-tip-holes, to holes as large as the diameter as a regular # 2 pencil.  You can see that the different diameters resulted in different sized reflections.  Try to establish a good, bright reflection using different depths, ranging from 1inch to 1 foot away from the surface of the mirror, and reflect the light up to 6 feet away, with direct sunlight, so you can see where the position of the eclipse is.


Reflections of various pinhole representations of the solar eclipse on a white wall, reflected from a high clarity mirror – each one ie not terribly bright but several inches wide, and the entire room of people can view them

More reflected images of the eclipse

The last method we tried was when the sun died out a bit — and it turned out the be the best.  When the sun is completely behind a cloud and there is no direct sunglight you can use dual polarized glasses and try to look at the sun directly for a second.  Or, preferable, to avoid permanent damage to your eyes, you can take dual polarized sunglasses and angle them against a digital camera to find the appropriate angle to look at the sun.  Make sure to only look at the sun through the digital display (LCD/LED display) so that you don’t hurt your eyesight.   Although that method was a bit tricky , we got   some of the best results!


Here you see a sunglasses-filtered picture of the eclipse – the big bar to the left of the center is the edge of the sunglasses, as taken by a digital camera – right side polarized

Closeup of same picture – note how real picture is opposite of the reflection in the pinhole pictures



Here you see the same picture overlayed with a diagram of where the moon would be at the approximately correct scale (though the contrast compared to outer space, as well as the haze of the Earth atmosphere, blocks out the real outline of the moon, and all you see is a “shadow”)

Sun to the left of the glasses frame – right side is polarized, left side is not


Closeup of the unfiltered pic

Try these different method, or use a professional filter or binoculars/telescopes or magnifying glasses, which are applied to a piece of white paper from several inches away.  This can be tricky though.  The methods described above are quite easy and can be figured out in a matter of minutes.  Try them all, if you have time (like a 2 hour solar eclipse window) and see what you can achieve too!!  Again this is only for solar eclipses — if there is a lunar eclipse, you can try another techniques, which are much easier than a solar eclipse– check out this NASA site here, and click around to find additional lunar eclipses in the future:   NASA eclipse link .


Here you see the cardboard with various-diameter pinholes, along with the flat mirror, and the polarized sunglasses used by Barnas Monteith when viewing the eclipse above the mountains in Houshanpi, Taipei, Taiwan.

Michael Erb, a scientist from Rutgers University, who is specifically focused on studying the orbit of the Earth around the sun and how it affects long term climate change, is a THL featured first time author.  His recent book “Kelvin McCloud and the Seaside Storm” is about weather/meteorology science and how it can be used to solve science/CSI mysteriies — it can be purchased at our online THL store: .