Solar Eclipse Activities
Solar eclipse activities were presented by members of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) at a 2023 state meeting hosted by Keith Turner in the Carmel High School Planetarium. Featured among the ideas for community engagement were:
models of the moon's shadow cast onto earth,
safe solar projection using a mirror,
an online eclipse simulator,
a pinhole camera, or solargraph, for capturing the arc of the sun as it evolves through totality,
a total solar eclipse curriculum for educators,
a Sun Funnel for a telescope projection,
measuring how dark it gets during the eclipse,
an appeal to share the sun’s life-supporting gifts for a more equitable and sustainable future,
personalizing white solar shades,
observing shadow bands,
alternative eclipse sights if cloudy skies,
discerning an artificial (sprinkler) rainbow during totality,
and an Indiana General Assembly Resolution.
Model the Sun-Moon-Earth
Ken Miller shared his expertise from decades of leading public sungazing events. In presenting the model of a foam ball on a stick as the moon and of your head as the earth, Miller opened by asking participants to position the moon ball relative to the sun light to yield each of three moon phases he described.
Later when he asked everyone to block out the sun light from one eye--i.e., simulate a total solar eclipse--the well-defined shadow of the moon was readily apparent on the faces of the participants. A roomful of colleagues each looked like they had a black eye.
Miller demonstrated his model of Ernie Wright's Eclipse Stick. You can also get the Yardstick Eclipse Activity Kit from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Two balls of the proper scale denote earth and the moon on a stick. When aligned in the sunlight, the shadow of the moon appears on the earth-ball like an eclipse umbra.
Project an Image of the Sun
There are multiple ways to project the sun onto a surface so it shows the apparent shape of the eclipsed sun, but not all are recommended. For starters, Miller states, forget about doing the old pinhole-in-a-box method where you stick your head into a box to see a miniscule projection of the sun. It is dangerous, for people inevitably look out the pinhole, and even when it does work, the resulting projected image is small and disappointing. Of course, projections onto the ground with other common tools like kitchen collanders or holed leaves in a tree are still interesting.
Miller instead promotes a much larger and safer projection onto a wall. Simply mount a mirror of any size where it can reflect the sunlight onto a darkened surface, like a wall under an overhang, or into an open garage. Cover the mirror with a piece of paper that has a hole about the size of dime. Note that the shape of the hole does not matter. Then aim your mirror toward the darkened surface to yield a large projection of the sun. Shown left is a hand-held mirror with the handle shoved into a stable pot of dirt so the mirror can be easily aimed as the sun moves. It's that simple.
Simulate What the Eclipse Will Look Like
An eclipse simulator from eclipse2024.org will show perspectives of the eclipse from your location, including the landscape view as well as a zoom of the sun. Notice in the path of totality how the sun appears within the valleys and mountains of the moon as Baily's Beads. Of course, what cannot be predicted well in advance is how the April 8, 2024, corona will appear.
Capture a Unique Visual Record
Instead of using your cell phone, consider making a solargraph in which a pinhole camera captures the sun during the entire eclipse day. One method uses black and white photographic paper like a traditional long-duration solargraph, while a second eclipse method uses blue SunPrint paper. Each paper is inside an aluminum can with a bigger hole than the standard solargraph (since it's a one-day image rather than months-long image). You may be able to get 16-ounce cans without tops donated by a local brewery. Mark Trotter suggested an option is to use cans labeled as "light" beer. Ba-dum-dum!
Get Free Solar Eclipse Curriculum
Mitch Luman shared the eclipse curriculum guide he and others have developed for educators. The PDF contains eclipse activities for elementary, middle and high school students that are cross-referenced with the Next Generation Science Standards, i.e., 1-ESS1-1, 5-ESS1-1, etc. Multiple projection techniques permit safe viewing of the partially eclipsed sun. Some recommended links, a hula hoop model, eclipse jokes, and fourteen classroom activities conclude the document.
To thank Mitch, Et al, you can send him an original eclipse joke. :)
Make a Sun Funnel for Telescopes
From nightwise.org/sun-funnel , "The Sun Funnel is a device for telescopes that allows a group of people to observe a magnified image of the sun safely. Make your own Sun Funnel, which attaches to an existing telescope, to share a solar spectacle with a larger audience."
There are several versions, from the original instructions (http://tinyurl.com/sunscope) using an oil funnel with Rick Fienberg and Lou Mayo, to 3D printed versions, all of which appear in the video below. If you only want to show the phase of the eclipse and not necessarily detail like a sunspot penumbra, you can use a cheaper shower curtain instead of the Da-Lite rear projection screen.
Measure How Dark It Gets
So how dark does it get during a solar eclipse? Each eclipse and respective location is different. One site in 2017 experienced Sky Quality Meter (SQM) readings from 12.4 to 13.3 magnitudes per square arc second. You may also participate in GLOBE Eclipse, a citizen science project that collects other eclipse data like air temperature and sky conditions through an app, provided GLOBE renews it for 2024.
Seize the Sun's Gifts for the Community
In your public engagement, use the hook of sungazing to update Hoosiers on solar energy opportunities and convey how the sun is integral to Earth’s well-being. The letter Seizing a Sungazing Syzygy, asks sungazers to celebrate the energy pouring out of the sun, and to seize that energy for the benefit of the community.
Solar energy targets for 2050 require about 0.5% of US land area be covered in rooftop and industrial-scale solar panel arrays. That's like a circle the width of Indiana. Planetarians have a role "to speak rightly of the sun’s gifts to us. When you tell the story of the sun...use the hook of sungazing to update Hoosiers on solar energy opportunities."
When discussing real Community Solar, consider a more equitable and sustainable future. "Pay attention to and be critical of the arguments being made on both sides. Then act on your values, your critical thinking, your common sense, and your awe of the sun."
Personalize Solar Glasses
If you purchase large quantities of solar viewing shades and you don't need prominent sponsorship or flashy art on the front, then get plain white shades. It will allow you to have an activity where users decorate their shades. Bonus: they may take better care of their solar eyewear. Makes for a nice, personalized souvenir.
Witness Shadow Bands
Ken Miller pointed out a shadow band sheet that was visible on one of his early eclipse expedition photos. Just before and after totality a weird phenomenon occurs on white surfaces where wavy bands of dark and light pass through. People have long been seeking to understand shadow bands, and in this modern era NASA suggests activities you can do related to recording shadow bands.
A short video of a group witnessing the 2017 eclipse includes the appearance of shadow bands (at 0:40) . In the image below, a young eclipse observer runs to record his Sky Quality Meter reading after the sun reappears. The white poster board he's about to jump over had captured shadow bands just seconds prior to totality.
Follow the Shadow If Sky is Cloudy
Clouds are possible, but they don't mean your eclipse experience is a washout. Darkness will be pronounced, and a highlight will occur when the leading edge of the shadow races across your site. GLPA members cited past dramatic scenes of the encroaching darkness as the shadow zips over the cloud tops at about 1,700 miles per hour.
Discern a Rainbow During Totality
Another notion from the GLPA state meeting shared by Laura and Russel Ainslee was to find out how dark it gets by simulating a rainbow during an eclipse. In 2017 they and Neil Ainslie set up a sprinkler to see if they could discern a rainbow during totality. Basically, yes, though in 2024 they seek to clarify the intensity of the colors visible and to compare an artificial eclipse rainbow with a full moon rainbow. Did I get that right? What result would you predict?
Declare a Sol Day
The Big Day, 2024 April 8, needs support from upper management, too. School districts need to encourage students to witness the eclipse elsewhere if necessary without penalty for their absence. Communities should support youth groups to travel to the path of totality. Don't get a 12-passenger bus; bus the whole 12 grades.
Keith Turner shared some recent legislative dialogue; context to be clarified:
The state of IN should declare an E-Learing Day on 4/8/24 for schools in session. Many planetarium professionals and Astronomy professionals from around the state of IN will provide or have provided available free curriculum materials. The high volume of visitors will bring tremendous logistical challenges....I would recommend declaring the eclipse a weather event, such as a snow day.
An e-learning day, akin to a snow day. Please, declare a Sol Day.
Proclaim the Event
The Indiana Statehouse may act on a proclamation such as Senate Resolution 6: Bringing awareness to the 2024 eclipse, authored by Sen. James Tomes. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is showing some excitement for the eclipse: https://www.visitindy.com/eclipse/ . I'm thirsty already.
Thanks to all the GLPA members at the Indiana state meeting who shared their ideas for making the solar eclipse a fun, informative, and memorable event. These activities are from my notes and recollections of the meeting, so please pardon editing errors or broken links.