One Ant’s Partial View of the Total Eclipse

Pinhole Camera

I wasn’t going to bother with the total solar eclipse.  I didn’t have time.  I hadn’t planned 3 years ahead to reserve a flight and lodging at the Grant Tetons so I could join the masses sitting along the center path of totality on Gros Ventre Road.  I hadn’t purchased the special viewing glasses.  I didn’t have any white construction paper to build a pinhole camera.  And I had an appointment Monday morning that I couldn’t change.  I just didn’t have time.

I wanted to finish a real estate photography project before getting sidetracked with anything else.  My dad was a carpenter, construction worker, and craftsman at making kitchen cabinetry.  I’ve loved seeing the finished product of his interior and exterior renovations, so I enjoy this work.

However, I noticed that — when I wasn’t looking — I had done a quick Google search on how to view the total solar eclipse without the special glasses.  I had sneaked in another Google search on what the exact time frame was for viewing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I printed out instructions on how to make the pinhole camera “to give to a friend” and then bookmarked the link.  But I wasn’t going to do anything with it because I didn’t have time.

This morning, Monday, August 21, 2017, all focus was on the eclipse.  It was wonderful and exciting to see every news station and every news channel talking about nothing else.  We were all of one mind, waiting to witness this occurrence of a lifetime.  I was paying attention.  I was marking this event.  I would remember this always.  That would be enough.

 As I was waiting for my breakfast bread to toast, it occurred to me I could tape pieces of white copy paper to some cardboard I had.  That would provide the stability of construction paper.  While vegies were sautéing in the frying pan, I found time to cut a square in the middle of one of the cardboards with an exacto knife.  It took only a few seconds to cut a square of aluminum foil, tape it over the hole, and poke through the foil with the end of a paper clip.

Despite my resolve, I had my pinhole camera.  Since I didn’t actually have to leave for my appointment until 11:30 a.m., and there was a narrow patch of sunlight in my back-patio garden, there was no reason not to try out the camera.

Breakfast over and tools ready, I took a moment to step outside.  If the camera didn’t work, that would be the end of it.  Very little time lost.

I’d also read about using a colander, so I tried that first.  The colander worked, but I was more interested the pinhole camera.  Sure enough, a very tiny image of the crescent sun appeared on the paper “projection screen.”  I held the pinhole “camera” board with my left hand so I could shoot some photos of the screen with my right. 

May I say that the hardest thing I’ve ever done was resist turning around to take a peek at the actual sun to see if it was really disappearing the way it showed on the white piece of paper.  I don’t know how parents keep their kids from looking.  It took all the discipline I had not to.  Next time I’ll get the special glasses.

 But I’m not the only one who found time to view the eclipse.  One clever ant did, too.  This fine explorer – a scout, no doubt — appeared on the pinhole “negative” or “screen” where the eclipse image was displayed.  It wandered along the edge of the paper and then stepped across the page towards the sun image.  The eclipsed orb was almost too small for me to see but the perfect size for the ant.  It seemed as interested in the progress of the astral event as I was and continued wandering about the screen until the “camera” was removed.

I’ve read that ants have “an ability to solve complex problems,” which explains this ant coming up with a strategy to safely view the sun.  They are also supposed to have sophisticated methods of communication using pheromones, sounds, and touch. 

I just received an email from a friend in Santa Barbara, over 250 miles away, saying an ant down there crawled onto her pinhole negative to see the eclipse, too.  Clearly, ants have added colony social media to their messaging arsenal and can share ideas at the speed of thought.  I have no doubt that ants across the country leveraged pinhole cameras to observe the eclipse.

After the sun was covered by this area’s maximum of 75%, I dashed inside.  As I watched the Grand Tetons experience totality and go dark on TV, I uploaded and sorted my snaps.  I took screenshots of a few choices ones and sent them to the printer.  Throughout the day I whipped out the paper to tell the story of the clever ant who knew enough to use a pinhole camera to watch the eclipse.

Who was I kidding?  I couldn’t miss this.

17 thoughts on “One Ant’s Partial View of the Total Eclipse

  1. Camille Watts-Zagha

    I don’t know …..didn’t think you could top the Urban Beaver drama. Besides writer and photographer, you are also an (urban) naturalist. Thank you!

  2. Amazing to see the tiny ant next to the image of the eclipse! Well done, Julie! Glad you decided to “see” the eclipse after all! I went up to the Lawrence Hall of Science but who was I kidding. It was cold and foggy with hoards of people in line to get into the hall. So I came home and watched it on TV. Pretty exciting stuff?

    • Hi, Anna, Thank you for these kind words. Very cool that you went to Lawrence Hall of Science. Cold and foggy is still part of the eclipse story. The TV coverage was amazing, wasn’t it?

  3. Julie, I’ve heard that ants can ride the sun beams. So it probably came in thru the pin hole and landed on the sheet of paper. Anyhow nice shot of the eclipse. We were fogged in here in Terra Linda and didn’t see a thing. Had made a box for viewing and everything, maybe next time! Liked the HDR photos of our house. That is much too much work for me I hope you enjoy it. The house never looked that good in reality. You made it seem saleable.

    Before I forget, great beaver shots.


    • Thanks, Michael! So great to know the ant rode in on a sunbeam! I figured you’d be out with your telescope for the eclipse. In fact, I thought you might be planning an eclipse party. Surprised there was fog over here. It cleared up down here just in time.

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