Scientists are urging observatories around the world to strategically deploy a new instrument in the exploration of the cosmos: disco balls.

In a paper submitted to the journal Physics Education, the authors argue that the common mirror ball presents a “safe, effective and instructive way of observing the sun” and other solar phenomenon.

Through a series of complicated diagrams and photographic examples, the authors illustrate how the common disco ball is able to project images of the solar disc, including observing sunspots and rare events such as solar eclipses. These have a considerable potential for public engagement and education.

“For astronomical purposes,” the authors write, “the optics of disco balls are similar to the optics of the better-known pinhole camera. Disco balls are collections of what are known as pinhead mirrors, each the reflective equivalent of a pinhole camera aperture.” Unlike pinhole cameras, “Disco balls, consisting of hundreds of small mirror segments, are readily available at remarkably low prices.” And “their associations to concerts, discotheques and parties make them interesting and unexpected objects for demonstrating physics to schoolchildren and the general public.”

Perhaps influenced their experiences in “discotheques and parties,” the authors also note that viewing solar events like eclipses can become a group experience when projected by a disco ball; pinhole cameras can only be viewed by one person at a time.

The authors tested their theory by mounting a disco ball at a university observatory. “When illuminated, the ball was popular with visitors,” they write. “In particular children enjoyed the opportunity of spinning the ball and watching the reflected images move across the walls.” During a partial solar eclipse on October 25 2022, “visitors we interviewed clearly understood that they were looking at the Sun because they saw the crescent shape characteristic of the eclipse.”

The authors aim to pursue further tests during the upcoming April 2024 solar eclipse.