How to Build on the Solar Eclipse Experience

Eclipse-related outreach activities will abound this August, but how do we best capitalize on this rare celestial event after it happens?

Ugandan children see annular solar eclipse in 2013

Astronomers Without Borders

As solar eclipses swept across other lands in recent years, Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) has organized crowdfunding campaigns to send eclipse glasses to local educators and students, allowing them to view these celestial spectacles. From Africa to South America, in places with few science opportunities, total and annular solar eclipses have brought science straight to the classroom — no field trip required.

Now it’s North America’s turn, with a total solar eclipse crossing the continental U.S. from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years on August 21st. Preparedness efforts are unprecedented, with organizations from local astronomy clubs to NASA and Google spreading the word and distributing resources to millions. Many are focusing on the country’s underserved communities, including inner cities, isolated rural areas, military facilities, Native American reservations, that might otherwise miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

The eclipse community is doing its best to relate how incredible the experience is and the inspiration it can provide, but it’s like describing taste to an alien who has never experienced it — you really need to see for yourself. Despite that challenge, this will inevitably be the most viewed eclipse in history.

But then what?

Solar Spectroscope

A child in India tries out the spectroscope.
Astronomers Without Borders

AWB’s unique contribution is an educational program for after the eclipse, building on the awe and inspiration that this event is sure to inspire, as well as encouraging and supporting teachers and students who are motivated by the rare spectacle to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.

“Once they look up, we don't want them to stop,” says AWB’s education director, Lindsay Bartolone.

Thanks to a grant from Google, AWB’s Building on the Eclipse Education Program will offer lessons, activities, and resources for schools, libraries, nature centers, and other educational institutions. And astronomers — both professional and amateur — will serve as the front-line troops in this massive educational effort. While AWB will offer resources and centralized services as part of this program, astronomers are needed at the local level to support teachers in their science activities.

Spectroscope kit

The spectroscope kit, prepared by the Stanford Solar Center with a NASA grant, to be used in a Sun-focused curriculum.
Astronomers Without Borders

The lesson plans keep the focus on the Sun, basing experiments on sunlight using small, personal spectroscope kits prepared by the Stanford Solar Center with a NASA grant. There’s a role for everyone who wants to be involved, from explaining the science to setting up solar telescopes.

The eclipse is a rare opportunity when millions of people will look skyward and contemplate our place in the universe. This is our chance to encourage our schools and students to continue the lesson.

For more information and to register to be matched with a school or other facility that can use your help, visit the Astronomers Without Borders program page.

One thought on “How to Build on the Solar Eclipse Experience

  1. Graham-Wolf

    Great article, Mike!

    Sadly, us Kiwis down here in the antipodes, won’t get to see this forthcoming Total Solar Eclipse, but (hopefully) millions of you Americans certainly will. You clearly have the “box seat” for this one. Boldly get out there and observe it, any way you can, but please do so:- safely. For first timers, it will be a surreal experience. Astronomy, like Ham Radio, knows no borders… it’s something all us humans can relate to, enjoy, and appreciate.

    NZ proudly sends you all, it’s best wishes for both fine weather conditions and a truely awesome Solar Eclipse.

    Graham W. Wolf at 46 South, NZ.
    ZL2-CHAR (Charlotte Dawson Memorial Station)

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