French Language Blog

L’Éclipse Solaire Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Vocabulary

For many people living in across a certain path in the United States, today was a historic day. It was the first time a full solar eclipse was viewable from the US since 1919. (The solar eclipse of 1919 was also a particularly historic one, as Einstein’s theory of relativity was shown to be correct as starlight visibly bent around the sun.)

The total eclipse was mostly viewable from a path ranging from Oregon to Georgia across the United States. Up in New York, where I live, the sun was covered nearly 50% by the moon at the height of the eclipse. It was still an incredible experience, though, and my family and I made a simple pinhole camera to look indirectly at the eclipse (and then used welder’s glass to look at it directly!).

But the solar eclipse was also partly visible in France, particularly in Bretagne (or Brittany), and les départments d’Outre-mer, including Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Guyanne. In French, the word for the solar eclipse is simply l’éclipse solaire. Easy enough, right? A total solar eclipse is une éclipse solaire totale. As we know, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon is aligned between the Earth and the sun. Une éclipse solaire se réproduit lorsque le Soleil, la Terre, et la Lune se trouve alignés. It is also important to wear special NASA-approved glasses when looking up at the sun, or to watch the eclipse indirectly using a pinhole camera. Il faut porter des lunettes speciales approuvés par la NASA pour regarder le soleil, ou regarder l’éclipse indirectement en utilisant un appareil à sténopé.

In French, a pinhole camera is called un appareil à sténopé, or simply un sténopé. The word sténopé actually comes from the ancient Greek meaning “small opening.”

Did you happen to watch the solar eclipse? Were you in the path of totality? Did you construct a pinhole camera, or un sténopé, in order to watch the eclipse without hurting your eyes? Let us know how you experienced this historic moment!

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!