August 21st, the world will experience the first total solar eclipse to only be visible within US borders. In roughly an hour and a half — less time than it takes to watch a movie — the Moon’s shadow will cross from Depoe Bay, Oregon to McClellanville, South Carolina. And in its path, professional researchers, eclipse-chasers, and citizen scientists are preparing for the big event. Here’s a short sample of the hundreds of experiments happening:
Radiowaves & Lightening
What: At Austin Peay State University (APSU) in Clarksville, Tennessee (across the state border from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the point of greatest eclipse), Dennis L. Gallagher from NASA Education and Public Outreach is partnering with college students to observe the very low frequency (VLF) radio noise lightning around the world makes. Gallagher says teenagers at Space Camp will then analyze the data, “hypothesiz[ing] how radio noise might be influenced by the moon’s shadow crossing overhead.”
Why: Gallagher says the eclipse provides “the opportunity to examine the frequency content of this natural radio noise from about 300 Hz to 12 kHz and to measure the total noise content in a VLF frequency band,” which differs from normal conditions.
Cool Score: For the cross-generational and weather components, 8.
What: Dr. Rod Mills and Dr. Don Sudbrink from APSU are partnering with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to observe animal behavior during the eclipse. Mills is watching cows and Sudbrink is studying crickets. Both men hope to learn more about how animals react to rapid changes in lighting, temperature, and wind.
Why: Why not? More specifically, though, Mills is following up on research conducted during the 1999 eclipse over England.
Cool Score: There’s not much new science here, but since the eclipse cuts across rural American farmland, we’re glad someone’s studying livestock: 4.
What: Citizen scientist Don Bruns is heading to Casper Mountain, Wyoming, where he hopes to become the first to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity using Finlay-Freundlich’s method from the ground.
Why: In order to prove general relativity, you have to show how sunlight’s gravitational pull creates a shift between the apparent and actual position of stars. Since the moon will completely cover the sun, the total solar eclipse gives Bruns the complete darkness he needs to measure the shift in positions.
Cool Score: Modern photography divides an image into digital pixels, so when light falls between two pixels, the image is pushed into one pixel or the other, changing results. Since Bruns has found a way to correct this that others couldn’t: 6.
What: Citizen scientists across America are coming together to study the solar corona. NASA says, “more than 60 identical telescopes equipped with digital cameras [are] positioned from Oregon to South Carolina to image the solar corona. The project will then splice these images together to show the corona during a 90-minute period, revealing for the first time the plasma dynamics of the inner solar corona.”
Why: This experiment will give us new information about the inner corona. But because eclipse excitement has gone mainstream, it’s also a chance to involve the public in science. Volunteers from 20+ high schools, 20+ colleges, 5 national research labs, and astronomy clubs across the country are participating.
Cool Score: For uniting scientists of all ages, expertise, and backgrounds, we give it a 10. Turn this experiment up to 11 by joining CATE here: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/citizen-science
Bonus Info: Padma Yanamandra-Fisher from the Space Science Institute is taking part in CATE at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, Illinois. Carbondale is the point of greatest duration this August, and it’s also in the path for America’s next total solar eclipse April 8, 2024. Out of all the experiments we found, Yanamandra-Fisher’s is the only one taking advantage of two eclipses from the exact same spot.
For more opportunities to get involved in citizen science–eclipse and otherwise–check out NASA’s list here: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/citizen-science
Terena Bell is a freelance journalist writing on all things Great American Eclipse. Her family farm outside Hopkinsville, Ky is within radius of the point of greatest eclipse.