Citizen Scientists The Next Solar Sentinels
As the United States anticipates the total solar eclipse of 2024, citizen scientists are presented with a golden opportunity to contribute to significant astronomical research. This isn’t just any eclipse: it coincides with the sun’s highly active phase, known as the solar maximum, a period marked by an increased number of sunspots and solar storms.
A Solar Maximum Like No Other
Scheduled for April 8, the 2024 eclipse is unique due to the sun nearing its most turbulent period, which occurs every 11 years. This phase is characterized by heightened solar activity, including more sunspots, increased light and radiation, and frequent solar storms capable of disrupting satellites and even terrestrial communications and power grids.
Eyes on the Sun Citizen Science Opportunities
The impending eclipse isn’t just for professional astrophysicists to study; there’s a role for everyone, emphasizes Kelly Korreck, an astrophysicist at NASA Headquarters. Amateurs and enthusiasts are encouraged to participate in various projects, leveraging this rare event to expand our understanding of the sun and its profound impact on our planet and atmosphere.
- The Eclipse Megamovie Project: Following the success of the 2017 initiative, the 2024 Eclipse Megamovie seeks volunteers to capture the eclipse’s journey from Texas to Maine. This time, the data collection aims to be more structured, potentially leading to publishable scientific outcomes.
- SunSketcher App: Defining the Sun’s Shape: Even smartphone users can contribute! By timing the emergence of Baily’s beads during the total eclipse, data gathered from the SunSketcher app will help scientists determine the precise shape of the sun, contributing to broader gravitational theories.
- Eclipse Soundscapes: Nature’s Reaction to Totality: Documenting the eclipse’s impact on wildlife, volunteers with the Eclipse Soundscapes project can contribute by recording changes in animal behavior and environmental sounds, providing deeper insight into the natural world’s response to such celestial events.
Limited Opportunities, Unlimited Contributions
While some projects offer specialized equipment, spaces are limited, urging interested individuals to act fast. Regardless of your background, whether you’re a ham radio enthusiast or a casual observer, there’s a place for you in this scientific endeavor. According to Korreck, there’s never been a more opportune time for public involvement in solar research, especially considering the next similar event won’t grace the U.S. for another two decades.
The 2024 solar eclipse isn’t just a celestial spectacle; it’s a call to citizen scientists everywhere to become part of a larger quest for knowledge and understanding, one that transcends professional laboratories and observatories and finds its way into the hands of the people who share this starlit world.