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Predict and Record Your Corona

The crowning moment of a solar eclipse is literally the corona, derived from the Latin word for wreath or crown. During totality when the brilliant sunlight is blocked, charged particles emanating outward from the sun appear as stunning streams of light against a dark background. The corona's pattern will be dictated by the magnetic activity on the sun itself, which is currently peaking as the sun nears the upswing in its eleven-year cycle of activity.

Scientists can use satellites and other instruments to monitor current solar events like flares, sunspots, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). By tracking a spectacular solar outburst they can predict what the visual effect may be for observers on April 8, 2024. A continuously running Live Coronal Prediction is updated in real time to give simulated views aligned for your location.

Simulation of predicted eclipse.
Corona prediction image from Predictive Science Inc.

You, too, can anticipate the corona in a different way. NASA created Predict the Corona Activities with four lesson plans that meet Next Generation Science Standards (MS.ESS1-1) that model the Earth-Sun-Moon system and describe cyclic patterns. The NASA instructions also include a rebel, non-NGSS extension activity that involves chocolate cake!

Brown cake with corona pattern
Corona Cake; courtesy of NASA HEAT/ Shannon Reed

Kaoru Fukushima writes that, for an 1887 American Solar Expedition to Japan, Professor David Peck Todd realized "totality did not last long enough to allow [photographic] plates to expose the excessively faint light of the outer corona...Todd was sure that sketches of the outer corona, even if drawn by untrained observers, would be of value for astronomical research."

Instructions for drawing the corona were printed in a manual that was translated into Japanese. "Despite unstable weather conditions, some 370 amateur volunteers succeeded in observing the eclipse and produced 177 corona sketches," of which 83 were preserved and are included in Fukushima's peer-reviewed paper.

Eight pencil drawings of corona.
Amateur sketches of 1887 corona; courtesy of Kaoru Fukushima.

For the 2024 solar eclipse, millions of observers will again be in the path of totality with a simple means of archiving the spectacle. For Eclipse Chalk Art, get two items in advance: black construction paper and white chalk. Shortly after totality, while the sight of the corona is fresh in your mind, place a circle on the black paper and draw a ring around its edge. Then smudge chalk outward to simulate what you saw. Voila!

Corona pattern made from chalk on black paper.

The corona is an enigmatic region around the sun visible during a total solar eclipse. Somehow the temperature above the solar surface is accelerated to millions of degrees. Record your crowning moment from this solar phenomenon, then celebrate with a slice of that Corona Cake!


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