Questions for ‘What scientists hope to learn from Great American Eclipse’

People can safely watch the eclipse on the ground using a pinhole eclipse “camera” as here. NASA even has a video to make another type of low-cost pinhole projector here.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

To accompany feature “What scientists hope to learn from Great American Eclipse”


Before Reading: 

1. What is an eclipse and why do people get so excited about a total solar eclipse?

2.  How does nature respond when the sun’s light is temporarily blocked out?

During Reading: 

1. About how often does a total eclipse happen somewhere on Earth?

2. What is the sun’s corona? How big is it?

3. What is the solar wind and what has it done to Mars?

4. What will Nat Gopalswamy’s team use a new instrument — a polarimeter — to study during the August 21 eclipse? What information do they hope to glean?

5. What is the photosphere? How does the temperature of the sun vary between this photosphere and its corona?

6. What are spicules and how might they explain the corona’s sizzling temperatures, based on this article?

7. How do magnetic fields affect electrons in the corona’s plasma?

8. Why does Amir Caspi liken the surface of the sun to a boiling ocean?

9. What are Alfvén waves and why do scientists find them interesting in understanding the corona?

10. Where will Caspi’s team be watching the 2017 eclipse from and what is their goal during those observations?

After Reading: 

1. Why do you think eclipses have captured the human imagination throughout the ages?

2.  Before people understood astronomy and the orderly movement of celestial bodies in the heavens, eclipses often scared them? Find out what they thought caused the solar darkening. To do this, conduct some research on the history of eclipses.


1.  Use guidance from the NASA video (see link at top of page) to build a pin-hole projector to safely view the sun. Warning: Be careful never to look directly into the sun. An August 18, 2017 case report in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology describes a 12-year-old girl who damaged her eyes’ image-forming retinas just by looking directly at the sun for one minute. This solar damage permanently degraded her vision.