by Joseph McClain
An order for 400 pair of safety glasses for viewing the Aug. 21 solar eclipse was unilaterally canceled by the vendor, and Swem Library’s Lisa Nickel leaped into action.
“We’re going old school,” she said, placing a rush order for 300 pinhole camera cards with the William & Mary Print Shop. It won’t be a completely old-school astronomy experience, though, as a limited number of thoroughly modern devices will be available. Attendees will have to take turns, though.
Nickel is Swem’s associate dean of research and public services. The library is hosting an informal eclipse viewing in conjunction with the university’s 2017 Solar Eclipse Working Group.
The event will still be held at the sundial courtyard outside Swem Library during eclipse time, 1:19 to 4:05 p.m., with peak coverage of 88 percent occurring at 2:45 p.m. Attendees can assemble the pinhole cameras on site and view their own personal projection of the eclipse.
Nickel noted that pinhole cameras are a historic “old-school” way of viewing passage of the eclipse. Old-school solar astronomy can come with a 21st century twist, as she used the Swem makerspace 3-D printer to make an outline of the map of Virginia. Poke a hole in the spot indicated and you can monitor the solar eclipse within the shadow of the commonwealth.
Michael Gaynes, a lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History and a member of the Solar Eclipse Working Group, noted that the pinhole viewers operate on the same principle as the camera obscura that stands near the sundial courtyard. Gaynes also will bring his two telescopes equipped with solar filters for the eclipse.
The cancellation of the large order was part of the nationwide surge in demand for eclipse eye protection. Gaynes stressed that a limited number of eclipse glasses are in hand on campus and will be available at the event.
“People can take turns using the glasses,” Gaynes said. “There should be enough so that everyone gets a good look. But don’t look directly at the sun.”