Challenger - Return Home   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2003

------------------------------------Here's a great name in fandom making his first appearance in Challenger, "eclipsing" my own poor efforts with

Darkness at Noon

Well, Dimness at Six P.M.

Jack Calvert


       I am told that astronomy fans, or even astronomers, can predict these things thousands of years in advance, but when my wife told me that there was going to be an eclipse of the sun on June 21st, it caught me by surprise. The totality, or annularity, would only be visible to those willing to travel to the mid-Pacific. The show from our backyard wouldn¹t be as good, but we are not ones for traveling, and it is much drier there. On the appointed day and time, we noticed that the afternoon sunlight was visibly dim and weird. The local papers recommended making a viewer out of a box, but we found that a pinhole punched in a piece of opaque paper worked just fine. (I vaguely remember back in the old stone age when I was in grammar school viewing a solar eclipse through layers of exposed film, but I guess the projection method is recommended now because it is safer. It is certainly more fun.) The pinhole projected a sharp, clear image of the sun the size of a pencil eraser on a surface about a foot away. The solar disc had a huge bite taken out of it by the moon. Since there was enough time, I also tried the box method, but the resulting image in the box was small and blurry, I think because the cardboard of the shoe box that I used was too thick for the purpose. I believe the ideal material for the pinhole is thin but opaque.

       Anyway, all this puttering about with projections reminded me of a piece that I had recently read by Vanessa Schnatmeier on the history of magic lanterns. (In LASFAPA mailing 308. All knowledge is found in fanzines.) She mentioned that the ancient Romans had known about the camera obscura, which got me to imagining some Roman senator marveling at a view of the Bay of Naples accidentally projected onto a wall of his villa at Baia, maybe through a hole in the villa¹s drapes. As far as I know, the Romans knew little or nothing about optics, and I wonder what they thought about things like this. I've never seen an accidental projection of an outside scene, but one year near the winter solstice we got an image of the sun projected onto a wall through a keyhole. Our house faces east, more or less, so it must have been the rising sun. It must happen each year, but I've only noticed it that one time, I suppose because all the conditions were right - weather clear, blind open, me awake, etc.

       Then I came across a little article in an art encyclopedia describing how to make a camera obscura, and decided that I had to try it. This time, I cut a large hole in the "objective" end of the shoe box, covered the hole with duct tape, and poked the pinhole into the thin tape. I stuck a piece of white paper in the other end of the box, cut a hole in the side for viewing, and was ready for Test One. The article said to keep as much light as possible out of the box by installing a six-inch or so tube to view the image. But I thought I'd try without the tube first, not really expecting it to work. I stepped out in the garden, pressed my eye to the viewing hole, shielded it with my hand, and scanned around with the thing. Nothing but darker and lighter blurs, some green. Then I pointed the box toward my house, and goshwow, Mr. Science!) there was an image of it: faint, ghostly, washed out, with a black background (and upside down, of course), but definitely there. I love it when things work better than expected. I'm going to tinker around with this instrument and see if I can¹t get it even better. Hmm, maybe a charge-coupled device chip in place of the piece of paper...


[ HOME ]    [ Contents #17 ]    [ Current Issue ]    [ Archives ]

Challenger is (c) 2002 by Guy H. Lillian III.
Rights to first print and on-line publication reserved; all rights revert to contributors upon publication.