All eyes on the sun

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Doggie Data and the April 8 Eclipse / View Guide
A map of the United States, northern Mexico and southern Canada shows the path of the eclipse with major cities in the path highlighted.
The eclipse on April 8, 2024, will enter North America in western Mexico around 12:10 p.m. Mountain Time, cross the United States, and exit through southeastern Canada around 5:15 p.m. Newfoundland

Directions for teachers:

To engage students before reading the article, consider playing this short “Solar Eclipse 101” video by National Geographic and have them answer the “Before Reading” questions as a warmup in class. Then, instruct students to read the online Science News article “Why the 2024 total solar eclipse will be such a big deal” and answer “During Reading” questions. For an optional extension, have students answer the “After Reading” questions as a class discussion or as homework.

This article also appears in the March 9, 2024 issue of Science News. Science News Explores offers another version of the same article written at a middle-school reading level. Post this set of questions without answers for your students using this link.

For additional ways to prepare your students for the upcoming eclipse, check out this Science News Learning lesson plan activity.

Directions for students:

Read the online Science News article “All Eyes on the Sun” and answer the following questions as directed by your teacher.

Before Reading

1. If you were able to view a solar eclipse from Earth, describe what you might see. If you aren’t sure, do a quick internet search or watch this short video. A solar eclipse occurs due to a particular alignment of the sun, Earth, and moon. Based on what you’ve described, draw a sketch showing the sun, Earth, and moon in an orientation that would result in an eclipse.

During a solar eclipse, the view from Earth shows the moon partially or fully blocking the sun, sometimes forming a ring of light around a black center. The sketch should show the three celestial objects in the following order: sun — moon — Earth.

2. The term “citizen science” describes research that uses non-scientists’ participation to collect data. What might be the benefits of having the public participate in eclipse research? Explain your answer.

Answers will vary. For example, students may say that having the public participate allows for a lot of data to be collected that might otherwise be hard to acquire, especially as this total eclipse event will only last for about 4 minutes.

During Reading

1. Describe the three reasons astronomers predict April’s solar eclipse to put on a “livelier show” than normal.

(1) The Earth will be closer to the moon, making the moon appear bigger than many other eclipses. (2) The sun will be close to its solar maximum, emitting a lot of bright light. (3) The eclipse will last longer than normal.

2. What is the “path of totality?” How long is the April eclipse predicted to last if watching from the path of totality?

The eclipse is predicted to last about 4.5 minutes in the path of totality, which is the path where viewers from Earth can observe total blockage of the sun’s disk.

3. About 32 million people live in the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 eclipse, but why might many more people be able to see this total eclipse?

The path of totality is going to be very accessible to the bulk of the U.S. population. Major East Coast cities are all within about 200 miles of the path of totality.

4. What is a coronal mass ejection?

A coronal mass ejection is an emission of hot gas from the sun that gets trapped by the sun’s magnetic field.

5. Why is the April eclipse predicted to have a higher-than-normal chance of producing a coronal mass ejection?

The chances of a coronal mass ejection are predicted to be higher than usual because of the higher-than-average amount of solar activity.

6. Astronomers hope for a coronal mass ejection during the eclipse. What opportunity might such an event offer regarding measurements made by the two observing satellites?

Should a coronal mass ejection occur, an opportunity to sample the coronal ejection material may arise.

7. What types of particles do the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network radars detect? What causes these particles to form?

Super Dual Auroral Radar Network radars detect a gas-like plasma consisting of positively charged atoms and negatively charged electrons in Earth’s atmosphere. The sun’s rays kick electrons off atom in the atmosphere to create this plasma.

8. What two satellites will be able to observe the sun from the side during the eclipse?

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter and NASAS’s Parker Solar Probe will both observe the sun from the side during the eclipse.

9. Besides learning about the sun, what else might the instruments monitoring the eclipse detect?

The instruments may also discover asteroids thought to exist in the orbit of Mercury.

10. How do the unique conditions of the solar eclipse allow for such discoveries?

Asteroids in Mercury’s orbit are generally difficult to observe due to the sun’s glare, so conditions during the solar eclipse may cut that glare to make them more visible.

After Reading
1. Based on your reading, describe two reasons scientists want to know more about coronal mass ejections. Pick one of these to explain further. How might the knowledge gained from this research type help address such a problem? Describe one action that people may take using such information.

Answers will vary. Students may point out that coronal mass ejections can disrupt communications and power grids on Earth — even damage satellites or hurt astronauts in space. Students may pick any of these to elaborate on further. For instance, they may describe how knowing the conditions of the solar wind before the coronal mass ejection helps to predict when one might occur. These predictions may allow people time to take protective action.

2. Describe a specific type of data mentioned in this article that can measure something about an eclipse event. What equipment did scientists require to make such measurements? Explain precisely what scientists can learn from such measurements.

Answers will vary regarding the chosen data. For example, students may point to the research by Shadia Habbal, who uses a spectrometer attached to a kite to observe light composition from the sun. These measurements all help determine what material the corona is composed of.