Eclipse 2017

Viewing Methods

A few weeks ago I started thinking about what to do with materials I have on hand for the August 21 Solar Eclipse. This area of Illinois (just West of Chicago) will see about an 88 percent occlusion, per this calculator, starts at 11:53, peaks at 1:19PM and ends at 2:42. Weather permitting of course – what are the odds?  This post is written six days before the event. I will update if the viewing is successful.

Pinhole projection seemed like a good traditional method, but Google research indicated the image would only be about 3/4″ diameter. One of the pinhole discussions also talked about using one side of binoculars to focus the Sun’s image. I do own a medium quality 7×30 pair with zoom so decided to try them. This is one of the first images obtained.

Close up of projected sun image

Close up of projected sun image

I was very pleased with this, if you look just below center slightly to the left, there is a genuine sunspot clearly visible. The image is about 3 inches across at minimum zoom.

Now to make a two hour viewing interval practical I explored mounting the binoculars to a good camera tripod. This tripod has the pan and tilt head on a tall crank up rod and a mechanism to tilt that rod at it’s base up to 90 degrees (parallel to the ground). Long ago I owned a telescope with an equatorial mount and I thought maybe laying the central rod down at the proper angle would enable that function.

The advantage of an equatorial mount is you can track a star, or the Sun, by adjusting only one of the two axes of the telescope mount. Having to manhandle both the azimuth (pan) and elevation (tilt) to track is a real PITA. You don’t realize how fast the Sun moves across the sky until you magnify it 7 times. The sky moves 360degrees/24hours = 15 degrees every hour. The way the mount works is, you align the primary axis of the scope, in this case the tiltable rod, with the earth’s rotational axis. Then the stars rotating around the earth’s axis also rotate around the telescope’s axis and you can keep the scope pointed at the same spot in the sky by adjusting only the azimuth. Ideally with a powered clock mechanism.

Of course it’s you that’s moving, not the Sun but the result is the same. Thank you, Nicolaus Copernicus.

First, my binoculars had to be firmly attached to the tripod. The dozen or so rubber bands I used for initial testing just didn’t work out. I drilled a block of hard wood to fit the round central spine of the binoculars. All binoculars I have seen are made like this, it is part of the mechanism that allows the two eyepieces to separate or close to match your eye spacing. Then I sawed through the drilled block and installed a couple of screws to clamp the block on the spine. Then I drilled and tapped a 1/4-20 hole in the bottom of the block to mate with the tripod screw.

You need a large shade so the projected image is in shadow. This was easily made from cardboard.

Binocular clamped to tripod

Binocular clamped to tripod

This photo shows the tripod tilt mechanism with the riser set to equatorial position.

Tripod extended in equatorial position

Tripod extended in equatorial position

I made a box to further keep out stray light. It’s about ten inches square, painted flat black with a sheet of white paper at the bottom. The string you see in the photo above helps align the shadow box axis with the binoculars. I mounted the cardboard box on a 1×6 with a hinge and a sliding prop arrangement so the box can easily be tilted to align with the projected image.  The box must be moved and realigned every now and then as the Sun moves across the sky.

Sun image projected into shadow box

Sun image projected into shadow box

If I was observing stars at night, I could align the scope by looking at the north star. But during the day the procedure for equatorial alignment is:

  1. Align the riser rod exactly North by positioning the whole tripod.
  2. Raise the central rod to the exact latitude of the location. About 42 degrees here.
  3. Uncover one side of the binoculars
  4. Hold a sheet of paper below the eyepiece and move the tripod pan and tilt until you see the Sun image. Try to center the image in the binocular field by exploring the edges.
  5. Remove temporary paper, set and align the shadow box with the projected image. Stretching the string back to the box will show you the axis.
  6. Tighten the tripod tilt but leave pan axis loosen enough to move with the Sun.

Here is the assembled Helioscope. You can see the projected image in the bottom of the box.

Binoculars with shade projecting sun image

Binoculars with shade projecting sun image

So far my only expenses are a spray can of flat black paint and new batteries for the camera.

Camera Modification:

Hand holding a camera on the image is awkward. I decided to mount a camera directly on the box so it would always see the same image field. To enable this and not block the projecting beam, I bumped out one side of the box 2 1/2 inches. Hot glue is wonderful stuff. It took some fussing with a tapered shim to get the camera pointed at the image correctly.

Camera mounted inside box

Camera mounted inside box

It’s very hard to read this Canon A530 screen in the sun so I connected a small television which has a composite video input to remote the display. This works well. You can see the 2 1/2 inch bumpout in this photo.

Camera in box and composite monitor

Camera in box and composite monitor

The best images are shot with the camera zoomed in a bit. I’ve worked out how to crop the pictures consistently with GIMP. A stretch goal is to make a video of the whole occlusion. I’ll need a photo every 30 seconds, two hours and 45 minutes should fit on a 2 gig camera card.  But I worry about having to change camera batteries in the middle of the sequence.

I worked up a BASIC script with the Canon Hack Development Kit. It is based on a Wiki post by Keoeeit, his version 3. It should solve the setting consistency problem if I have to change the batteries and fires the camera at a set interval.

It has the following parameters to set:

  • Initial Zoom amount, a number 0-8 for the A530
  • Delay before first shot Min, Sec, Allows time to reposition the camera after a disturbance
  • Number of shots to take, zero runs forever
  • Time between shots, Min, Sec.

I run the camera in Manual mode with shutter about 1/80 sec at F4.5 (the small Canon cameras don’t really have an iris). I don’t want the exposure to change any time during the run. I put a magazine page in the box so the lens has something busy to focus on then put the camera in CHDK mode and start the script, .

The following happens:

  1. The lens zooms out to the fixed setting supplied.
  2. There is a delay countdown so you can tweak the camera position
  3. The lens focuses and then locks the focus
  4. A ten second delay to allow removing a focus target.
  5. The camera begins taking pictures at the specified interval.


This is the BASIC script

rem Author – Keoeeit
rem Upgraded by Mika Tanninen
rem Time accuracy and shutdown for a710is by Viktoras Stanaitis
rem h-accuracy for delay, j-accuracy for interval
rem Reset zoom added to restore the same picture
rem in case batterys have to be changed during a long session


@title Eclipse Intervalometer

rem number of zoom steps to execute at beginning of script
rem A530 has steps 0 – 8
@param i Initial Zoom
@default i 3

rem the delay is after zooming so camera positon can be tweaked
@param a Delay 1st Shot (Mins)
@default a 0
@param b Delay 1st Shot (Secs)
@default b 0

@param c Numb. of Shots (0 inf)
@default c 0

rem interval is the time between shots
@param d Interval (Minutes)
@default d 0
@param e Interval (Seconds)
@default e 10


rem Move the zoom to a consistent setting
set_zoom 0
for s=1 to i
print “step”,s
set_zoom_rel 1
next s

if c<1 then let c=0
if t<1000 then let t=1000
if g<=0 then goto “focus”

rem count down seconds until begin shooting
for m=1 to g
print “Intvl Begins:”, (g-m)/60; “min”, (g-m)%60; “sec”
sleep 930
next m

rem set and lock focus
press “shoot_half”
sleep 2500
release “shoot_half”
print “Remove Focus Target”
sleep 10000

if c=0 then print “Shot”, n else print “Shot”, n, “of”, c
if n=c then goto “quit”
sleep t
goto “interval”




  1. I understood the basic and some of the other. I made a note on my calendar to check for the eclipse in my part of the universe.

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