The total solar eclipse that will take place in the United States on Monday, August 21st, will not only be a fascinating astronomical spectacle that millions of people will watch. It is also going to be an opportunity for citizen-scientists across the country to help scientists monitor and observe some of the interesting phenomena that will occur when the moon passes in front of the sun.
Some of these opportunities require special equipment, such as the Citizen CATE project (which stands for Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment). This effort requires its volunteers to use special telescopes to take photographs of the sun’s corona while the moon is blocking the bright light from the rest of the sun. The photos will then be compiled into a movie.
Even those without special telescopes and cameras will be contributing to scientific study, though. The California Academy of Sciences has a project called Life Responds, which is asking for field reports of animal behavior and plant responses during the eclipse. Researchers on this project are especially interested in what animals will do when it gets dark in the middle of the day. Amateur scientists participating in this project will use an app called iNaturalist to record and transmit their observations.
Another project, called EclipseMob, which is being run jointly by George Mason University and the University of Massachusetts, will be collecting information about radio waves during the eclipse using the help of ordinary citizens. Using smartphones and radio receivers, people helping out with this project will pick up radio waves emitted by EclipseMob and record how the signals change during the eclipse.
NASA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Astronomical Society are also running projects during the eclipse that offer opportunities for amateur scientists to help collect data. These projects are asking eclipse observers to monitor clouds and record temperature changes during various stages of the eclipse. Of especial interest is data recorded at the moment of totality, when the moon passes in front of the sun, resulting in a moment of darkness for sections of the United States during the day.
This will be the first total solar eclipse to traverse the entire United States in 99 years, so it’s worth watching if at all possible. There won’t be another total eclipse in the U.S. until 2024, and it will only extend from Texas to the Northeastern states. You’ll have to travel to South America or the South Pacific if you want to witness this phenomenon between 2017 and 2024.