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"What You Need to Know About The Great American Eclipse"

Tomorrow, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. Surprisingly, the northeast will have partly clear skies which is unique for mud season in New England. My husband, sister-in-law, father-in-law and I (and the dogs Sid and Abby) will be travelling to northern Vermont, Greensboro Bend, to experience the eclipse.


An eclipse in 1919 provided the evidence to support Einstein's theory of General Relativity as the bending of light by gravity was observed. Einstein’s theory predicted that rays of light passing near a massive body in space would be visibly bent as they followed the curve in space-time created by the body’s mass. Under normal conditions on Earth, this would be impossible to test because the Sun blocks out all light from nearby stars so thy appear invisible to us on Earth. However, during a total eclipse when the Sun's light is blocked by the moons shadow for a short period on Earth the light from a nearby star could be observed. British astronomer, Arthur Eddington, discovered the light from a nearby star bent with the curvature of space time when it passed a massive body during a.



What is a total solar eclipse?

There are four types of eclipses, total, annular, partial and hybrid. The type of eclipse depends on the positions and distance of the moon, Sun and Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and Earth. If you are located in the center of the moons shadow as it passes in front of the Sun will experience totality. Totality tomorrow will cross some of the heaviest populated areas of this country. The length of totality that you experience depends on your distance from the centerline of the moons shadow. I will be in Greensboro Bend, Vermont and will experience 2 minutes and 38.5 seconds of totality. NASA has a great interactive simulation to use for the eclipse to see the moons position and shadow.

Image Credit: timeanddate.com

Why do we study the Sun during an eclipse?

On April 8, 2024, NASA will be conducting several scientific endeavors that build on research they began during the 2017 eclipse. Three sounding rockets will be launched from NASA Wallops Station in Virginia. The rockets will launch 45 minutes before the eclipse, during the eclipse and 45 minutes after the eclipse. The data will record disturbances in the earth's ionosphere that can impact satellite communications. During the October 2023 eclipse, scientists observed a sharp reduction in density of the charged particles in the atmosphere. In Fairbanks Alaska at Poker Flat Research Range two additional sounding rockets will launch hoping to record a solar flare in the Sun's corona.


The Sun's corona is only visible from Earth during a total eclipse. The Sun has an approximate 11-year solar cycle, and 2024 is a solar maximum year. This is an added benefit to the eclipse, because we may be able to see some features of the corona that are only visible when it is active. Features such as prominences, solar flares, Bailys beads, helmet structures, coronal loops and polar plumes.

Baily's beads photographed 4 seconds before totality of the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Eclipse Timing

For most of us in the northeast, the eclipse will happen after the final school day bell, so unless your school has an event already planned you unfortunately won't be able to view it with your students. I created several eclipse lesson plans that I am leaving for all of my classes tomorrow. There are so many activities you could do with your classes, a few high school level lessons are listed below.


This activity on the Sun's corona was created for my Astronomy class. We just happen to be on a unit

about auroras and the Sun. It's a bit apropos, my timing doesn't always coincide as well with this. This activity combines active reading activity of a PBS article on the eclipse and an activity from NASA with some solar math. Feel free to use it with your astronomy classes or as part of a homeschool curriculum. I have been trying to include more algebra skills practice in my lessons so there is a variety of math skills students can practice.


I also created this Blooket of eclipse trivia facts for my school to play during advisory period tomorrow. Make sure you are logged into Blooket first, then click the link. Otherwise, it brings you to the Blooklet log in screen.


. Watch the NOVA Episode the Great American Eclipse. This episode is great. All NOVA episodes are jam packed with information but this one combine information about the eclipse, archeoastronomy, safe viewing and the science of the Sun. It is a great episode for grades 8-12. I have my students do "Video Clip Notes" and collect evidence about the Sun, questions they have while watching the episode and then complete a summary.


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