Solar eclipse 2017 citizen science

As well as sitting back and enjoying the total solar eclipse, why not take part in some citizen science too?

16th August 2017
What to do if you can’t see the US eclipse © Alamy

© Alamy

This extract first appeared in issue 310 of BBC Science Focus magazine – for the latest science news, innovations and discoveries delivered straight to your door subscribe here.


The audible eclipse

Observing an eclipse is often presumed to be a solely visual phenomena, but there’s plenty to listen to during a total solar eclipse. The Eclipse Soundscapes Project will use an app to allow citizen scientists to record sounds before, during, and after the 21 August eclipse. The project is focused on capturing people’s reactions for sociologists, but also to collect data on the soundscapes of wider natural environments such as a change in birdsong. It’s an attempt to provide evidence to naturalists of the effect of an eclipse, but it will also give the blind and visually impaired an opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse.

Reactions to totality

While there is anecdotal evidence that wildlife reacts to the darkness that totality brings, there’s not much hard science. On 21 August , citizen scientists are being asked to upload observations using an app as part of Life Responds. “The iNaturalist app is pretty well used internationally to observe wildlife,” says Elise Ricard at the California Academy of Sciences, which is leading the project. The team will assemble a list of target plants and animals before the big day. “We’re asking people to take at least two, and preferably three, photographs of plants and animals: one at least 30 minutes prior to totality – or greatest partial eclipse, depending on where you are – one within five minutes, and another 30 minutes after,” Ricard says.

Crowdsourcing the corona

Will you be photographing the eclipse? If so, you can help produce a high definition, time-expanded video of the entire event. The Eclipse Megamovie Project is headed-up by the University of California and Google, and is citizen science at its most traditional. Organisers are aiming for over 1,000 volunteers to pinpoint their location on a Google Map, then send in their photos of totality.

As well as allowing scientists to study how the Sun’s outer atmosphere (the corona) changes over a few hours, it will also be possible to see how it changes over seven years when the project returns during the next US total eclipse on 8 April 2024.

Studying the ionosphere

Ham radio enthusiasts can help with an experiment called HamSCI that will study the ionosphere, a little-understood layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. On the dayside of Earth, solar radiation creates a strong ionosphere; on the nightside, it weakens. The ionosphere weakens during a total solar eclipse too, but it’s not known how much of the ionosphere is affected, or for how long. Changes to the ionosphere during the eclipse will affect radiowave propagation, so the researchers behind HamSCI want amateur radio enthusiasts to transmit at various frequencies during the eclipse, then cross-reference the results with automated ionospheric monitoring networks.

Read more:

What to do if you can’t see the US eclipse

Five of the best locations in the USA to see eclipse totality

The great American solar eclipse 2017


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