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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

Are You Ready For the Next Eclipse?

A Note From Amy


I watched the total solar eclipse of 2017 from a public park in Oregon with friends. My friends and I both brought our 2 year old toddlers with us. 


Young child with long black hair, pink sun hat, and sun dress, standing outside and holding solar eclipse glasses to her face.
My kid rocking her solar eclipse glasses at the 2017 eclipse.

When the Moon fully covered the Sun, my 2 year old jumped and cheered along with the crowd! 


Meanwhile my friends’ 2 year old burst into tears at what seemed to her like the end of the world. 


A solar eclipse is an awe inspiring thing, prompting a whole spectrum of reactions! 


The total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 will be the last one viewable from the contiguous United States until 2044, so it's a pretty big deal for us in the United States!


This time my 5 year old, 7 year old, and 9 year old will be watching it with me. Will there be equal amounts of cheers and tears again? I'll report back!


Science Alert! It's a Total Eclipse of the Sun! (not the heart)


“What's the sense in having an eclipse if you can't look at it? Somebody in production sure slipped up this time!”~ Charles Schultz (Peanuts cartoonist)



Image of totality during the solar eclipse of August 2017. The sky is completely black, and in the center is a bright ring around a black circle.
My friend's photo of the 2017 solar eclipse, as seen from McMinnville, OR.

I’ve shared STEM resources on the Sun and the Moon before. But a solar eclipse deserves a post of its own!


An annulunar eclipse happens about once every one or two years, where the Moon mostly, but not completely, covers up the Sun. 


A total solar eclipse is much more rare. 


Moon’s shadow on Earth, as seen from space during a total solar eclipse.
Credit: Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES)

In a total solar eclipse, the Moon perfectly covers the entire Sun, casting a huge shadow on the Earth.  On April 8, 2024, the Moon’s shadow will travel northeast along the path of totality  through northern Mexico and a large part of the United States.


If you are in the path of totality, you will be directly in the Moon’s shadow. The sky will turn as dark as night for a few minutes. 


If you're not directly in the shadow, you'll still get to see a partial eclipse, but the sky won't turn nearly as dark.


If you can go to the path of totality to see it in person, that’s amazing! Buy your solar eclipse glasses now if you haven’t yet - I’ve got recommendations below. 


If you can’t go to the path of totality, you can still watch along! NASA and the Exploratorium will both have livestream videos.  


Either way, I’ve got plenty of STEM resources all about this amazing show in the sky.  This science is for everyone - preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, and grown-ups! (Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)


 

Videos


from SciShow Kids (YouTube


This video was made before the 2017 total solar eclipse, so the map of the eclipse path is outdated. But there’s a great kid-friendly explanation of what a solar eclipse is, how to watch it, and what it will look like. Perfect for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and early elementary kids.



For older kids who really want how the Sun, Moon, and Earth line up in space during solar and lunar eclipses, this PhysicsGirl video is perfect!



from SmarterEveryDay (YouTube)


This is a delightful science channel that’s usually more geared for adults. So this video may just be for you, or for you and a really enthusiastic kid to watch together. 


This video covers so many things I wish I had known to look for at the 2017 eclipse. When the sky goes dark, weird things happen to the temperature, light, and air. Birds fly back to their nests, bees fly back to the hive, thinking it's night time. The way your eyes perceive color even changes during the eclipse! 


I love this video's suggestion to bring a colander to the eclipse, so the little holes in the colander can act as a pinhole camera and project crescents during the partial eclipse phase! 


 

Activities



Map of North America with a band drawn diagonally across, from northern Mexico, through Texas, then up through Illinois and Indiana, up into the northern Atlantic Ocean

Your view and timing of the eclipse will depend on where you are.


If you click on your location on this interactive map, you’ll see what the sky will look like at that location on eclipse day. Move the time slider on the bottom to see when the eclipse will start and end. 


If that’s a bit too much, NASA has this handy table of eclipse timelines for various cities in the path of totality (scroll to the bottom).



Solar eclipse glasses made from a paperboard frame and very dark lenses.

Buy safe solar eclipse glasses

Recommended supplier list by the AAS (American Astronomical Society)


It's not safe to look directly at the Sun, even during a partial eclipse. You can only safely look at the partial eclipse with solar eclipse glasses. Sunglasses alone won't protect your eyes from dangerous levels of UV and infrared light. 


Solar  eclipse glasses must meet the ISO 12312-2 (sometimes written as ISO 12312-2:2015) international safety standard. Unfortunately, some glasses may claim to meet the safety standards but haven't been properly tested. The AAS (American Astronomical Society) provides this thorough list of trusted suppliers, but if you really just want a one-click quick recommendation,  here are the glasses that my husband bought for our family.




The physics of how light works is complicated, but basically any small hole + a focused light source will act like a tiny camera. We call it a pinhole camera, and it’s really easy to make one like this video shows! 


If you don't have eclipse glasses, you can safely watch the pinhole camera project the eclipse onto a white background. Even if you have eclipse glasses, it's pretty cool to watch the projection change into a crescent shape!


You can see the same effect with a colander or cheese grater (as the Smarter Every Day video above suggests).  I even saw this pinhole effect all around me in the tree shadows back at the 2017 eclipse! 


 A tree's shadow on the sidewalk. The leaf shadow shapes are obscured by hundreds of little crescent shapes, caused by the gaps in the leaves acting as a pinhole camera during a solar eclipse.
Small gaps between tree leaves create a pinhole effect, showing the crescent shape of the partial eclipse projected on the sidewalk.

 

Books



Cover illustration of a child, seen from behind, standing amongst grass and flowers, and looking up at a strangely orange sky where a large Sun is almost completely covered up by the Moon.

written by Kate Allen Fox, illustrated by Khoa Le


For a few beautiful minutes, “the sky becomes as dark as the deep sea. Stars, shining brighter than ever, twinkle in that darkness. Birds roost for the night as crickets and bats wake...” This gorgeous book walks through each moment of an eclipse, and ends with how an eclipse brings people together. 


 

Whether you are watching in person or on a livestream, I hope you get a beautiful view with clear skies on April 8, 2024! 


Until next time, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity,

Amy Wung Tsao


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