Space View

Why the 2017 solar eclipse is generating so much excitement in the US

The eclipse will be one of the most digitally recorded events ever.

If you’ve never seen a solar eclipse before, you should make an effort to witness the breathtaking event on August 21. While only people in the US will be able to see the total eclipse – in which the moon completely blocks the light from the sun – those living in parts of South America, Africa and Europe should be able to see at least a partial solar eclipse.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun so that it blocks part or all of the sunlight as viewed from a particular location on our planet. Earth is the only planet in the solar system where this can happen in this way. This is because of the moon’s size and its relative distance from the sun – when viewed from the Earth, it can identically cover the bright solar disc to reveal the tenuous, wispy outer atmosphere of the star (called the solar corona).

An eclipse does not happen every time the moon travels around the Earth. This is because its orbit has a slight inclination (about five degrees) relative to our planet’s journey around the sun. However when aligned correctly, the result is an awesome, emotional experience. Once the eclipse has begun, the moon continues to eat its way across the blazing sun before darkness falls, the temperature drops and the sky is dominated by a radiant crown around the moon. It happens approximately every 18 months.

During an eclipse the sun’s corona becomes visible to observers on Earth.  NASA
During an eclipse the sun’s corona becomes visible to observers on Earth. NASA

On August 21, the moon’s shadow will travel West to East, touching land at Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 09:05 Pacific Daylight Time before speeding across North America at up to 1 km per second and finally exiting close to Charleston, South Carolina, at 16:09 Eastern Daylight Time. The longest total eclipse will occur close to the town of Carbondale, Illinois – lasting about two minutes and 40 seconds.

Anywhere within the 110 km wide path of the eclipse, observers will be able to see the sun completely covered. Outside of that, sky-watchers will still see a partial eclipse with decreasing percentages of the sun’s surface covered as one moves away from this narrow corridor. It is estimated that over 12 million Americans live in the path of the total eclipse itself and another 200 million people within a day’s drive of it. This is science engagement on an unprecedented scale and is likely to be the most orchestrated eclipse viewing event ever undertaken.

Digital deluge

Social media activity has been increasing for months now, building up the anticipation to be part of this rare event. Expect Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Flickr and Instagram to be swamped with eclipse pictures during and after the event. In fact, the eclipse should be one of the most digitally recorded events ever, which could be of use to scientists. The Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) experiment aims to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of more than 60 telescopes operated by citizen scientists, high school groups and universities.

Similarly, the Eclipse Mega-movie is asking observers to use their app to upload eclipse images along the path of totality to produce an expanded and continuous film of the total eclipse as it crosses the country. Both of these experiments will produce unique data-sets of the white light corona, a region that is usually impossible to observe because the exceptionally bright solar disc hides it from view. We will be able to examine like never before the detailed structure of the solar corona and how it is dragged out into space by the solar wind.

There is also a big focus on education. A top priority is making sure that people know how to safely view the eclipse. Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during that brief period of the total eclipse. It is vitally important that only special solar filters, such as certified eclipse glasses, are used. Unfiltered cameras, telescopes, binoculars or other optical devices concentrate the solar rays and are a definite no-go in regard to eye safety. If no filters are available, it is best to use a pinhole camera to project the eclipse indirectly.

It is also important to take advantage of the amazing opportunity to inform a huge population about the science behind the event. There are thousands of astronomy-oriented events, parties even, being hosted along the path of totality.

New science?

Scientists are equally excited. Eleven NASA and NOAA satellites, high-altitude balloons, hundreds of ground-based telescopes and even the International Space Station will all take advantage of this unique shadow-chase across the surface of the Earth. However, it is not just looking up at the moon and sun that is important. Total eclipses also provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to examine our own planet under quite unusual conditions.

NASA says that observers across several states will measure the radiant energy from the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere from the ground as well as from space. This should provide new insights into how the incident solar energy in our atmosphere changes when particles, clouds and in this case the moon, prevents sunlight from reaching the surface of the planet.

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I will be fortunate enough to be part of a four-hour live online telecast of the eclipse from Carbondale via NASA’s video podcast EDGE. This will include interviews with scientists and live panel questions, high-resolution sun images and a balloon launch. As a solar physicist who can only usually observe the solar corona from space by satellite instrumentation, it is special to be able to glimpse the corona with the (protected) naked eye for a brief time.

One interesting part to all this is the fact that the US gets another chance in seven years to maximise the opportunities that the eclipse brings.

It is said that one of the longlasting legacies of the Apollo missions to the moon is the number of American scientists today who were inspired to be engineers and scientists. Though this solar eclipse is science engagement in a different manner, the end goal is the same – bringing about not just a greater appreciation of the Earth, and solar or lunar research, but also sparking a desire in many young people to be the science leaders of the future.

Robert William Walsh, Professor of Solar Physics, University of Central Lancashire.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.