Citizen scientists wanted to make an eclipse megamovie | Science News for Students

Citizen scientists wanted to make an eclipse megamovie

Contribute to scientific research by filming some footage during the August 2017 eclipse
Apr 27, 2017 — 6:50 am EST
ISS eclipse

The International Space Station got to view the shadow of the moon as it moved across the Earth during a 2008 solar eclipse.


On August 21, 2017, a narrow swath of the United States will experience night in the middle of the day. That darkness will come from a total solar eclipse. The moon will pass in front of the sun, casting its shadow on Earth. The moon’s shadow will travel across the country, from Oregon to South Carolina. And anyone in the shadow’s path will be able to help scientists study the moon and sun. All they’ll need is a camera or smartphone.

Scientists need volunteers to turn film-maker for the Eclipse Megamovie Project. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the Google Making and Science Initiative and elsewhere are running the project. They will combine videos and images from more than 1,000 people across the United States into two movies. These 90-minute “megamovies” will show the solar eclipse as it moves across the continent.

The project is recruiting two groups of volunteers. Some 400 will come from amateur astronomy groups. These citizen scientists will set up digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras under the path of the eclipse. Each camera will need a lens to zoom in and a tripod to hold the equipment steady. The volunteers will also need to be able to record their exact position and time using a GPS device. (GPS is short for global positioning system.) A training session will teach the volunteers how to upload their data properly. That data will be used to make the first megamovie.

But not everyone needs so much equipment. The second megamovie will be made with data from volunteers equipped with a smartphone app that is in development. The app will guide the volunteers in taking carefully timed photos of the eclipse with their smartphones.

Both films will be useful for scientists. Eclipses can be used to study the sun’s corona — the sun’s outer atmosphere. Normally, the glare from the rest of the sun prevents an easy view of the corona from Earth. But when the moon passes in front and blocks most of the sun’s light, the corona is easier to view.

Flashes of light will occur as the moon moves in front of the sun. As the sun peeks out behind the moon, it will highlight some of the moon’s features. Scientists can use images taken during this time to learn more about the moon’s surface.

Volunteers need to sign up at the project’s website. But only those directly under the path of the eclipse can participate. Those from states like California, Maine and Texas need not apply. The data will be public, however, so anyone can study it.

If you are looking up that day, make sure to view the eclipse safely. Staring directly at the sun is dangerous — except for the brief time when it is completely covered by the moon.

But if you’re going to be stuck outside the path of the eclipse, don’t worry! You can still see something. The National Eclipse Ballooning Project will be sending up weather balloons that will send back live video of the event.

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Power Words

(more about Power Words)

amateur     One who engages in a pursuit as a pastime, and not as a profession.

app     Short for application, or a computer program designed for a specific task.

astronomy     The area of science that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe. People who work in this field are called astronomers.

atmosphere     The envelope of gases surrounding Earth or another planet.

corona     The envelope of the sun (and other stars). The sun’s corona is normally visible only during a total solar eclipse, when it is seen as an irregularly shaped, pearly glow surrounding the darkened disk of the moon.

data     Facts and/or statistics collected together for analysis but not necessarily organized in a way that gives them meaning. For digital information (the type stored by computers), those data typically are numbers stored in a binary code, portrayed as strings of zeros and ones.

digital     (in computer science and engineering)  An adjective indicating that something has been developed numerically on a computer or on some other electronic device, based on a binary system (where all numbers are displayed using a series of only zeros and ones).

eclipse     This occurs when two celestial bodies line up in space so that one totally or partially obscures the other. In a solar eclipse, the sun, moon and Earth line up in that order. The moon casts its shadow on the Earth. From Earth, it looks like the moon is blocking out the sun. In a lunar eclipse, the three bodies line up in a different order — sun, Earth, moon — and the Earth casts its shadow on the moon, turning the moon a deep red.

GPS     Abbreviation for global positioning system.

GPS device     Devices that calculate their position (in terms of latitude and longitude) from any place on the ground or in the air. They do this by comparing how long it takes signals from different satellites to reach them.

lens      (in physics) A transparent material that can either focus or spread out parallel rays of light as they pass through it. (in optics) A curved piece of transparent material (such as glass) that bends incoming light in such a way as to focus it at a particular point in space. Or something, such as gravity, that can mimic some of the light bending attributes of a physical lens.

moon     The natural satellite of any planet.

recruit     (in research) New member of a group or human trial, or to enroll a new member into a research trial. Some may receive money or other compensation for their participation, particularly if they enter the trial healthy.

smartphone     A cell (or mobile) phone that can perform a host of functions, including search for information on the internet.

solar eclipse     An event in which the moon passes between the Earth and sun and obscures the sun, at least partially. In a total solar eclipse, the moon appears to cover the entire sun, revealing on the outer layer, the corona. If you were to view an eclipse from space, you would see the moon’s shadow traveling in a line across the surface of the Earth.

sun     The star at the center of Earth’s solar system. It’s an average size star about 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Also a term for any sunlike star.

tripod     A three-legged stand for supporting a camera or other device.

weather     Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.