A total solar eclipse will cross North America on April 8, 2024. I’m sure many of you will take photos, and NASA wants you to help them do what you do best. The Agency’s recently funded initiative will use the eclipse to advance science while engaging the public. And yes, you can be among those who will be involved and contribute to science with your photos. Isn’t that great?
The initiative is named SunSketcher 2024, and it will be one of NASA’s citizen science projects. The leader will be Gordon Emslie, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
About the April 2024 eclipse
The total solar eclipse will take place on April 8, 2024. It will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The first location in continental North America to experience totality will be Mexico’s Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT.
“The path of the eclipse continues from Mexico, entering the United States in Texas, and traveling through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine,” NASA writes “The eclipse will enter Canada in Southern Ontario, and continue through Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. The eclipse will exit continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT.”
The next total solar eclipse seen from the contiguous United States will take place in August 2044. So, I believe you don’t want to miss this one. You’ll find more information here so you can prepare.
What will your task be?
The SunSketcher 2024 app will allow people in the totality area to collaborate on a single, large-scale movie of the eclipse. This app is an updated version of the one initially designed for the 2017 Eclipse. The app uses your phone’s GPS to accurately determine when a specific eclipse phenomenon, known as Baily’s Beads, will appear.
Baily’s Beads are tiny bright points visible just before and after the moon completely obscures the sun. They occur due to the uneven surface of the moon, allowing slivers of sunlight to pass through. These points disappear when the moon entirely covers the sun. If you are in the right location to see the total eclipse, you can participate in creating a movie that captures the event from multiple perspectives!
Why is SunSketcher 2024 significant?
It’s evident that the project is terrific since it includes the public in major scientific research. I personally think initiatives like this are essential to spread the interest in science and increase the knowledge and education of the public. But what makes the SunSketcher 2024 scientifically significant?
“Combined with precision maps of the lunar limb collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, this movie will allow the team to precisely measure the shape of the Sun,” NASA writes in a statement. In particular, it will help to measure how much the Sun’s shape deviates from a perfect sphere. “This information will lead to an improved understanding of the flows in the solar interior, and is also key to testing gravitational theories,” NASA adds.
“There are so many ways to participate in NASA science, especially as we enter the Heliophysics Big Year,” said NASA Heliophysics citizen science lead Elizabeth MacDonald. “We’re so excited to watch these and our many other projects come to life.”