Citizen scientists will take to the field
for U.S. eclipse
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[August 17, 2017]
By Irene Klotz
(Reuters) - When the moon passes directly
in front of the sun on Aug. 21, casting a deep shadow across the United
States, thousands of citizen scientists will be watching the eclipse
while monitoring temperature changes, animal behavior and radio signals
bouncing around the atmosphere.
The prospect of a total solar eclipse, the first to travel
coast-to-coast in this country in nearly a century, has inspired dozens
of citizen science projects involving solar physics, atmosphere and
“Millions of people ... can walk out on their porch in their slippers
and collect world-class data,” said Matthew Penn, an astronomer with the
National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.
Penn is coordinating a citizen science effort to photograph the sun’s
volatile outer atmosphere, known as the corona.
The corona’s pearly light is typically obscured by the bright glare of
the sun, but during a total eclipse, scientists can get a clear view of
the sun's outer crown, a mysterious region that triggers solar flares
and other storms that can disrupt satellites, power grids and other
systems on Earth.
The view does not last long. Because the moon is moving at more than
2,000 mph (3,200 kph), it only blocks the sun for a couple of minutes,
not long enough to detect key changes in the corona.
The eclipse will cast the moon’s 70-mile wide shadow, called the “path
of totality,” across the United States over 93 minutes, temporarily
bringing darkness to daytime skies.
Penn’s project, called The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic
Eclipse Experiment, or Citizen CATE, involves a network of volunteers
who will be stationed along the path of the eclipse with identical
telescopes to take digital photos of the corona. The pictures will later
be spliced together into a 93-minute movie.
Citizen CATE participants require special equipment and training, but
dozens of other projects are open to anyone in the path of totality with
a camera or cell phone.
Google and University of California Berkley are teaming up for Eclipse
Megamovie 2017, a crowd-sourced compilation of eclipse imagery.
For a project called Life Responds, the California Academy of Sciences
wants field reports about how animals and plant life react during the
eclipse. Using an app called iNaturalist, amateur scientists will log
their observations and get help identifying flora and fauna.
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A parking sign for people visiting for the Solar Eclipse is shown in
Depoe Bay, Oregon, U.S. August 9, 2017. Picture taken August 9,
2017. REUTERS/Jane Ross
“We want to collect exactly what all these animals are doing as it
gets dark … what do we see, what do we hear,” said University of
Missouri astronomer Angela Speck.
A number of zoos, wildlife preserves and 20 national parks are in
the path of the eclipse.
Another app-driven science project is called EclipseMob, organized
by George Mason University in Virginia and the University of
Massachusetts in Boston. It aims collect information about radio
waves passing through Earth’s ionosphere, the electrically charged
outer layer of the atmosphere.
When sunlight is blocked during an eclipse, the ionosphere is
suddenly transformed. Using home-built radio receivers and
smartphones, participants will pick up radio waves transmitted by
EclipseMob in Colorado and California and record how the signals
Other apps will record temperature changes and monitor clouds. The
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the American
Astronomical Society and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science have lists of citizen science projects on
“This is an opportunity to draw people from across the country into
being fans of science,” said astronomer Speck, co-chair of American
Astronomical Society’s National Total Solar Eclipse Task Force.
“The change in light is so fast and what you get to see is so
amazing that even people who chase eclipses and have seen dozens of
them will still be wowed by this," Speck said. "It’s not just
visual, it’s an all-over experience."
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
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