Solar Eclipse Offers Millions A Chance At Citizen Science

Millions of people, from students to rocket scientists, are poised to contribute to a massive scientific effort to study the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the United States August 21.

The entire country will fall into shadow as the eclipse passes, though the darkest path, or “totality,” will be contained in a 70-mile (113-kilometer) ribbon that moves from Oregon to South Carolina.

And with technology everywhere, from smartphones to satellites, the eclipse will be captured as never before, and will offer scientists a wealth of new insights on how the Sun works.

“There has never been an event like this in human history where so many people could participate with such unique technology,” Carrie Black, an associate program director at the National Science Foundation, told reporters Friday.

“We are expecting millions of people to participate in this event, and images and data from this will be collected and analyzed by scientists for years to come.”

One of the most popular projects is called Eclipse MegaMovie, a partnership between Google and University of California, Berkeley.

Its goal is to assemble images snapped by students and other amateur observers along the eclipse path, in order to create educational materials depicting the 93-minute eclipse across the country.

Another project, called the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) Experiment by the National Solar Observatory and the University of Arizona, will engage in a kind of relay race.

Volunteers from universities, high schools and national labs will be spaced out along the path of the eclipse, using identical telescopes and digital camera systems to capture high-quality images for a comprehensive dataset of the event.

Of course, amateurs are not the only ones involved. Experts from a host of US agencies and universities are leading the research.

Government aircraft will be dispatched to follow the eclipse and take infrared measurements to determine the solar corona’s magnetism and thermal structure.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to use a camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite that sits in a distant orbit about 900,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers away), to capture the view of light leaving the Earth.

Two other satellite tools aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, “will provide observations of atmospheric and surface conditions at times before and after the eclipse,” said NASA.

This data should help scientists better calculate how much solar energy hits the top of our atmosphere, how much is reflected back to space and how much thermal energy Earth sends off into space.

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