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Using the Solar Eclipse as a Learning Opportunity

A lot of excitement has been generated over the upcoming solar eclipse. I don’t think that a single news outlet, print or video, has neglected this opportunity to weigh in on the topic. What more could I add to the mix? Not much beyond some personal experiences with students. If you want to learn more details about this eclipse or others go to NASA as your first source.

Perhaps the giddiness over this 2017 solar eclipse is that this one is a total eclipse. This means that the moon will completely obscure the sun through the eclipse path. The second major contributing factor is that the path of totality will pass mostly across the middle of the United States from the northwest Pacific Coast to the southeast Atlantic. For those in North America, no expensive flights to distant countries: this one is reasonably accessible to anyone able to drive to the path. Be cautious though, as I have seen reports of extreme gouging on the price of parking and hotels in the path of totality.

As a science teacher, I always went off script when there was a ‘live’ eclipse to observe. I was never able to observe a total or even an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse is the one where the apparent size of the moon is smaller than the sun, thus the dark centre is surrounded by a brightly glowing circle of light called an annulus. I have only been able to view partial eclipses, and 2017 will be no exception.

                                    

A very easy DIY eclipse viewer can be made with a hole punch and a small empty box. I have used both shoe boxes and cereal boxes depending on availability. First punch a hole in the box. Then line that hole up with sun so that a bright dot projects onto the opposite side of the box. You should now be able to observe the disk of the moon as it moves across the sun. Here is a photo I took of an eclipse in 2012 using this technique.

                               Partial Eclipse through a Pinhole

Do not look directly at the sun. Check on the timing of the partial eclipse in your area. If you are working with students, have them follow all the safety procedures while on this mini-field trip to the school yard. And most of all have fun with the science.

Links of interest:
      NASA Eclipse 2017
      How Canada will experience the solar eclipse


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Using the Solar Eclipse as a Learning Opportunity

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