Observing the sun’s impact: ASU partnership allows students to contribute to NASA data for total solar eclipse


Solar eclipse

Image courtesy NASA

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Monday, April 8, marks the date of the next total solar eclipse, during which the moon will pass in front of the sun, completely blocking it from view. It will be the last to cross the U.S. for the next 20 years.

To celebrate this unique natural phenomenon, Arizona State University's Center for Education Through Exploration (through its Infiniscope project) and Eclipse Soundscapes, a NASA Citizen Science project, have joined forces to bring training and resources to a cohort of passionate science teachers in underrepresented communitiesOf the schools the teachers represent, 13 are designated Title 1 and one is an alternative school. .

Eclipse primer from NASA

Learn more about the eclipse, including where to watch NASA's live broadcast, on NASA's 2024 Total Solar Eclipse website

"Our goal (in this partnership) is to offer high-quality content to underserved communities," said Ariel Anbar, Infiniscope principal investigator, director of the Center for Education Through Exploration and a professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Through this partnership, 19 educators from states in the path of totalityView the location of the schools along the path of totality on this interactive map. — ranging from Arkansas to New York — received a stipend, training on eclipse observation and eclipse-viewing glasses for their students.

The teachers and their 2,224 students will act as volunteer scientists (also known as citizen scientists), collecting data that will be shared with NASA.

Tonia Kirby, science teacher at the RISE Academy in Rantoul, Illinois, said, “As a brand new alternative middle school, we are focusing on giving our students real-world experiences. This is a great opportunity for our kids to see science in real time and be a part of it. I am very excited to take all of our students outside on Monday and observe the world around us.”

Staying safe during a solar eclipse

During a total solar eclipse — when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun — the sky will darken as if it were dawn or dusk. But that doesn't mean it's safe to look directly at the sun.

Specialized eye protection designed for solar viewing is crucial. There are guidelines to be aware of — such as whether it's safe to look at the sun through a camera lens or telescope if you're wearing eclipse glasses (answer: no, it's not safe, even with the glasses on). Learn more about the guidelines at NASA's Total Solar Eclipse Safety website.

Schools in the path of totality that were selected to participate are:

  • Union Middle School, Union, Missouri.
  • Woodland Elementary, Milford, Massachusetts.
  • Booneville Elementary, Booneville, Arkansas.
  • Milton Middle School, Milton, Vermont.
  • West Middle School, Bay Shore, New York.
  • Brentwood South Middle School, Brentwood, New York.
  • Evansville Attendance Center, Evansville, Illinois.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Boys, Toledo, Ohio.
  • Carmalt PreK–8, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Pittsburgh Classical Academy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Junior-Senior High School, Parish, New York.
  • Pittsburgh Langley PreK–8, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • Reidland Middle School, Paducah, Kentucky.
  • Central Valley Academy, Ilion, New York.
  • The Founders Academy, Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Monomoy Middle School, Chatham, Massachusetts.
  • St. Joan of Arc School, Lisle, Illinois.
  • Rise Academy, Rantoul, Illinois.
Map of selected schools in path of totality
Map of selected schools in the path of totality, also available as an interactive map. Courtesy Infiniscope 

Over the last few weeks, the students at the selected schools have engaged in three digital explorations designed by the NASA Infiniscope project. These digital explorations, titled Kingdom in Peril, leverage NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System, videos and activities that are designed to support students in constructing knowledge about eclipses. The series is offered in both English and Spanish, with a focus on grades 5–8.

Alison Zemba, an eighth grade science teacher at Pittsburgh Classical Academy, expressed excitement for the opportunity afforded to her students through the ASU-NASA partnership.

“I have been implementing Infiniscope’s Kingdom of Peril lessons, and my students have been loving it," she said. "They have had 'aha' moments and have been able to incorporate technology into learning about the sun/Earth/moon system.”

Additionally, in preparation for eclipse day, students learned from the Eclipse Soundscapes project about making scientific observations that extend beyond vision. Educators trained their students about making observations using all of their senses. 

“Integrating informal participatory science ... opportunities, like the Eclipse Soundscapes project, into formal education provides students with opportunities to implement what they've learned in the classroom in a real-world, hands-on setting and contribute to real NASA science in the process,” said MaryKay Severino, Eclipse Soundscape education director.

On eclipse day, each student will receive NASA-provided solar viewers to safely observe the eclipse with their eyes, and students will record additional observations using their other senses. Their observations will be submitted as volunteer science data via webform.

Want to get involved?

Volunteer scientist opportunities:

  • Eclipse Soundscape Project: A NASA Citizen Science project funded by NASA Science Activation that is asking for the public's help in studying how eclipses affect life on Earth — including animals and insects — during the Oct. 14, 2023, annular solar eclipse and the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse. Learn more at eclipsesoundscapes.org.
  • NASA’s Citizen Science: Collaborations between scientists and interested members of the public that have helped make thousands of scientific discoveries. More than 410 NASA citizen scientists have been named as co-authors on refereed scientific publications. Learn more at science.nasa.gov/citizen-science.

Learning resources:

  • The Center for Education Through Exploration (ETX): Builds cutting-edge digital learning experiences such as Infiniscope, a NASA-funded project that empowers educators with adaptive digital learning experiences, professional development and a robust set of educator resources. Learn more at etx.asu.edu.
  • NASA’s Science Activation (SciAct): Connects learners of all ages with science in ways that activate minds and promote a deeper understanding of our world and beyond. Learn more at science.nasa.gov/learn

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