Solar eclipses are crazy. Do they even exist? Every time astronomers tell us one is about to occur, they also remind/order us not to look at it, so does the eclipse ever actually happen, or are scientists just messing with us? If no one’s ever actually seen one with their own eyes, how do we know they’re real? There are figurative truckloads of evidence suggesting that Sasquatch is legit, but no one’s ever gotten a good look at or reliable photo of him, so science jerks are like, “Nope. Not real.” Seems like the same thinking should apply to solar eclipses, right?
Anyway, here’s a fun and easy science experiment with which you can demonstrate to kids how “solar eclipses” “happen.”
Pennies or Pancakes
For this Demo Science science demo, all you need is a large, stationary object in or outside your classroom, and a coin for each student. Pennies will work, but the bigger the better, so I’d say go with Eisenhower silver dollars, the ones that are like an inch and a half across. (Or, even better, use silver dollar pancakes—they don’t hold up as well to repeated use, but if you make a whole batch of ‘em, you can eat ‘em as you go and have fresh ones for every repetition of the demo.)
Hand out the pancakes coins to the punk kids. Have them each close one eye and look at the designated object with their open eyes. (Or, if you’re an anarchist or whatever, ask them look at it with their closed eyes and give the first kid to pipe up with a smart remark an F for the semester. That’ll teach him.) Then, have them hold their coins at arm’s length in front of their open eyes. Have them slowly move the coin closer to their open eye, until the object in question is completely blocked from sight.
Coin = The Moon
While it’s not to scale in any dimension, this experiment does a fairly accurate job of simulating a solar eclipse. Each kid’s coin represents the moon, and whatever object you’re having them look at represents the sun.
As the coin gets closer to the observer, it obscures more and more “light” from the object, in much the same way that the moon obscures actual light from the sun when it passes between Earth and our local star.