On August 21, the moon’s shadow will carve a 70-mile-wide path of total darkness from Oregon to South Carolina.
The total eclipse is the first in nearly a century to traverse the entire North American continent, and scientists across the United States are taking advantage.
“This is the first eclipse in almost 100 years that’s covering the entire country, and that’s going to be a game changer for eclipse scientists — both for studying the sun and what’s happening here on Earth,” said Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Young is just one of many scientists participating in NASA’s eclipse research effort, one that will include 11 spacecraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons and numerous ground-based scientists and research stations.
From real time recordings of the moon’s shadow as it races across the country at 1,500 miles per hour to continuous measurements of the eclipse’s effect on Earth, NASA’s nation-wide observation of the total eclipse will provide unprecedented data.
But you don’t need a fleet of $1 billion dollar spacecraft to get in on the action.
Citizen scientists in Athens-Clarke County will have the opportunity to educate themselves on all things eclipse and also participate in a nation-wide, crowd-sourced eclipse experiment.
The Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens will host an eclipse-focused “Journey Through the Stars” at 10 a.m. on August 19 in the center’s planetarium.
“There’s a lot about eclipses that people don’t understand,” Kate Mowbray, a naturalist at the Sandy Creek Nature Center, said. “This is our way of helping people understand what is happening in the world around them.”
The program will focus on what causes an eclipse, the different types of eclipses and how to safely view the phenomena.
“One of the big things we want people to understand is that you can’t just go out and look at the eclipse. You need protective equipment,” Mowbray said.
She added that the protective glasses needed to safely view the event are available at many spots in Athens, including the Sandy Creek Nature Center gift shop, Mama Sid’s Pizza and the Athens Public Library.
The center will also be hosting an event on the day of the eclipse at city hall. Telescopes fitted with special filters will be available to get an up close look at the eclipse in action.
“It is exciting that we’re so close to the path,” Mowbray said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
Those interested in attending the planetarium event are encouraged to preregister online at athensclarkecounty.com/leisure.
Admission is $2 for ACC residents, and $3 for nonresidents.
If just viewing the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse isn’t enough, Athens residents can also become part of a nationwide network of citizen scientists studying the eclipse.
EclipseMob is a George Mason University led, crowd-sourced experiment that aims to judge the impact of the total eclipse on the planet’s ionosphere, a region of the upper atmosphere that is very sensitive to changes in sunlight.
“While people don’t directly interact with the ionosphere, they interact with communication systems that either use the ionosphere to send signals around the world, like radio waves, or signals that pass through the ionosphere, like GPS and satellite systems,” said Laura Lukes, co-principal investigator on the project’s National Science Foundation grant. “In other words, the ionosphere impacts civilian and military communication and surveillance systems. Improving our understanding of how the ionosphere behaves and influences radio waves helps improve and secure our communication systems.”
Using homemade radio receivers, antennae and a smartphone app, participants will capture radio waves broadcast from two towers in the United States. The information will be used to judge the effects of the solar eclipse on the Earth’s ionosphere.
“Since a solar eclipse occurs much more quickly than the day-to-night transition, it offers the opportunity to study the behavior of ionospheric disturbances under predictable conditions and will offer new information,” said Jill Nelson, an electrical and computer engineering professor at GMU and the co-leader of the project.
Detailed plans and parts lists for building your own radio receiver and antennae are online at eclipsemob.org, where you can also register for the project.
“We designed the instructions to be accessible for every,” Nelson said, adding that detailed instructions and pictures are available for every step of the process, in addition to online forums and Q&A sessions to help trouble shoot any issues.
Already more than 150 citizen scientists have signed up to participate in EclipseMob, making it the largest experiment of its kind in history.
“[This project] is a truly collaborative, grassroots effort fueled by the team’s passion for STEM and engaging the broader world community,” Lukes said.