How would you describe an eclipse to a blind person? The moon moves in front of the sun, yes. But what does that look like? Someone trained in illustrative description of images might say, “The moon appears as a featureless black disk that nearly blocks out the sun. The sun’s light is still visible as a thin band around the moon’s black disk. To the upper right, at the moon’s leading edge, a small area of sunlight still shines brilliantly.”
That’s just an example of how such an event could be described. Bryan Gould, director of accessible learning and assessment technologies at the National Center for Accessible Media, a non-profit working to make media experiences accessible to people with disabilities, is hoping to offer oral descriptions of the eclipse in an app. Paired with other features, like a tactile diagram and audio from the changing natural environment as the eclipse darkens the sky, the app is designed to make the event more accessible to blind or visually impaired people who want to experience it.
Gould is working with Henry Winter, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, to develop the app, called Eclipse Soundscapes. As the August 21 solar eclipse darkens a path across the United States, Eclipse Soundscapes will release descriptions, timed—based on the user’s location—to match the progress of the eclipse.
Winter conceived Eclipse Soundscapes after a conversation with a friend who’s been blind since birth. She asked him to explain what an eclipse means.
Such an event might provide an interesting representation of the eclipse, thought Winter, so he partnered with the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds program, which preserves and catalogs sounds from the parks. Helpers stationed at national parks along the route will record audio during the eclipse, to hear the change in the “bioacoustical chorus” of the animals.
This can’t happen in real time, of course, so the National Center for Accessible Media is providing illustrative descriptions, based on a previous eclipse. The sounds of crickets, frogs and birds becoming active on the day of the eclipse will be added to the app later.
Last, with the help of an audio engineer named Miles Gordon, Winter is trying something completely new. Gordon developed a “rumble map” of the eclipse: The app places images of different stages of an eclipse on your smartphone’s screen, and as you trace your finger across the eclipse’s image, the vibration increases or decreases based on the brightness of the image.
“It does give you the impression that you’re actually feeling the sun, as you move your finger around,” says Winter.
“I realized I didn’t have the vocabulary to answer that question for her,” says Winter. “Every way I thought about it was visual in nature, and I didn’t know how to explain it to somebody … light, dark, bright, dim, flash. All these different words have no meaning to somebody that’s never seen.”
But the project goes well beyond audio descriptions. It includes two further elements: audio of the changing soundscape caused by the eclipse, and a tactile exploration of the eclipse’s image (which means that people who are blind or visually impaired can “feel” the eclipse using vibrations on their smartphones).
Scientists around the world will be using the eclipse as an opportunity to study solar astronomy in a way they usually can’t, measuring the ultraviolet light emitted from the sun’s corona, which Earth-based observers can’t normally see, as it is overpowered by the normal sunlight. It’s also rare for an eclipse to cover this much land — it traverses from Oregon to South Carolina — and Winter points out that it is a particularly good opportunity for education and outreach.
Though education is important, for Wanda Diaz Merced, a visiting scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is completely blind, there’s a lot more to the eclipse than that. Merced, who has consulted on the Eclipse Soundscapes project, studies human-computer interaction and astrophysics, and to do her research, she needs assistance translating data into a format she can interact with. She’s been building tools to help with that translation, and sees elements of Winter’s project that could contribute.
“It’s still not a prototype that I may use, for example, to study elements of the photosphere. It is not on that stage,” says Merced. “But hopefully one day we will be able to not only hear, but to touch.”
The eclipse will occur on August 21, starting around 10 a.m. in Oregon and finishing by 3 p.m .in South Carolina. The Eclipse Soundscapes app is available for iOS now, and the team is working on an Android app as well.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone still pondering on whether or not to view the eclipse.
But that still doesn’t stop me offering you this recently presented TED Talk.
On August 21, 2017, the moon’s shadow will race from Oregon to South Carolina in what some consider to be the most awe-inspiring spectacle in all of nature: a total solar eclipse. Umbraphile David Baron chases these rare events across the globe, and in this ode to the bliss of seeing the solar corona, he explains why you owe it to yourself to witness one, too.
This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxMileHigh, an independent event. TED editors featured it among our selections on the home page.
About the speaker: David Baron David Baron writes about science in books, magazines, newspapers and for public radio. He formerly served as science correspondent for NPR and science editor for PRI’s The World.
Enjoy it, good people. And protect your eyes!!!
Or better still allow NASA Television to show the eclipse to you.
NASA Television will air a four-hour show – Eclipse Across America – which will include live video of the event, along with coverage of activities in parks, libraries, stadiums, festivals and museums across the nation, and on social media. NASA’s show begins at 15:00 UTC (11 a.m. EDT; translate to your time zone), or later (we’ve seen this time waffle around a bit). Check the website for changes or further details.
Welcome to August, a month defined by loud cicadas, pool parties, humidity and children fretting about an impending return to school. When it comes to celestial happenings, however, there is no larger star this month that our own moon. From a partial lunar eclipse to the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in almost a century, the moon will be the cause of most eyeballs drifting towards the heavens over the next several weeks.
Below is a small sampling of some of the night and day celestial events to look forward to this month. Wishing you all clear skies!
The rise of the full Sturgeon Moon (Aug. 7)
August’s full moon, nicknamed the Sturgeon Moon, will rise for the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on the evening of Aug. 7 at 8:05 p.m.
The Sturgeon Moon gets its name from the species of fish native to both Europe and the Americas that is easily caught this time of year. Other nicknames include the Corn Moon, Fruit Moon and Grain Moon. In countries experiencing winter, such as New Zealand, native Māori called this full moon “Here-turi-kōkā” or “the scorching effect of fire is seen on the knees of man.” This reference is to warm fires that glow during the Southern Hemisphere’s coldest month.
Partial lunar eclipse (Aug. 7 & 8)
As a kind of consolation prize for missing out on this month’s total solar eclipse over North America, those living on the continents of Africa, Asia and Australia will bear witness to a partial lunar eclipse. Spectators in Europe will catch the tail end of the eclipse as the moon rises around 7:10 p.m. on Aug. 7.
This phenomenon occurs between two to four times a year when the moon passes through a portion of the Earth’s shadow. Because the shadow cast is more than 5,700 miles wide, lunar eclipses last much longer than solar eclipses. In some instances, totality can occur for as long as 1 hour and 40 minutes. As a reference, maximum totality for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse will top out a mere 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The longest, at over 7 minutes, won’t take place until the year 2186.
This month’s partial lunar eclipse is the last of the year. Next year, total lunar eclipses will take place in January and July.
Perseid meteor shower (Aug. 12)
Regarded as one of the best celestial light shows of the year, the Perseid meteor shower occurs from July 17 to Aug. 24 and peaks on the evening of Aug. 12.
The shower, sometimes creating as many as 60 to 200 shooting stars per hour, is produced as Earth passes through debris left over from the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. This 16-mile-wide periodic comet, which completes an orbit around the sun every 133 years, has been described as “the single most dangerous object known to humanity.” This is because every instance of its return to the inner solar system brings it ever closer to the Earth-moon system. Though astronomers believe the comet bears no threat for at least the next 2,000 years, future impacts cannot be ruled out.
If the comet were to hit Earth, scientists believe Swift-Tuttle would be at least 27 times more powerful than the asteroid or comet that wiped out the dinosaurs. For now, you can take in the beauty of the debris from this harbinger of doom by looking north towards the constellation Perseus. Because the moon will be three-quarters full, you’ll need to search out a nice dark sky to escape any light pollution from urban environments.
Total solar eclipses occur when the new moon moves between the Earth and the sun and casts its shadow on the planet. This shadow is comprised of two concentric cones –– the larger penumbra, which from Earth only shows the sun partially blocked, and the much smaller umbra, which blocks the sun completely. It is within this latter cone that totality will occur, giving spectators on the ground what’s considered by many to be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
The Great American Eclipse will actually first start out in the Pacific (at this point, it will actually, unbelievably rise while completely eclipsed!), making landfall on the Oregon community of Lincoln Beach at 10:16:01 a.m. (PDT). From there, the moon’s shadow will continue to race across the U.S. The point of greatest eclipse, where the axis of the moon’s shadow passes nearest to the center of Earth, will take place in Hopkinsville, Kentucky and last 2 minutes and 40.1 seconds. In celebration of the event, the town has temporarily renamed itself “Eclipseville,” and expects anywhere from 55,000 to 150,000 tourists to visit in advance of Aug. 21.
The next total solar eclipse over the U.S. will take place on April 8, 2024.
New moon (Aug. 21)
Fresh after wowing the U.S. during the day with its solar theatrics, August’s new moon will give way to dark skies for the next several nights. This is the perfect opportunity to grab a blanket and head outside into the still-warm summer evenings to enjoy the heavens in all their glory. With some remnants of the Perseids still visible, it will also offer a chance to catch some of the faintest shooting stars.
Look for Earth’s shadow (All year)
Ever wonder what causes the beautiful bands of color in the eastern sky at sunset or the western sky at sunrise? The dark blue band stretching 180 degrees along the horizon is actually the Earth’s shadow emanating some 870,000 miles into space. The golden-red portion, nicknamed the “Belt of Venus,” is Earth’s upper-atmosphere illuminated by the setting or rising sun.
Now that you know about this phenomenon, choose a night or morning sometime to try and pick it out. You’ll need a western or eastern horizon that’s fairly unobstructed to get a clear view of our planet’s huge curved shadow.
Looking ahead to September
As fall beckons, the biggest event next month will be the dramatic death dive of the Cassini spacecraft into Saturn. Taking place on Sept. 15, Cassini will make discoveries about Saturn right up until its fiery conclusion, with unprecedented photos and data captured and transmitted during its final moments.
It is going to be quite a month!
Oh, and for those of you that want to know the timings of the eclipse over North America there is a useful reference site here, from which I republish the following table.
Eclipse Start & End: Local Time for US States
The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 15:46 UTC, which corresponds to 8:46 am Pacific Time. It will reach the coast of Oregon at Lincoln City, just west of Salem, at 9:04 am local time. The eclipse will reach its maximum point here at 10:17 am.
From here, the Moon’s central shadow will move inland. The following table shows when the Moon will begin to move in front of the Sun and the moment it completely covers the Sun, as seen from some locations along the central path of the eclipse. All times are local.
Today, I have an appointment with a urologist surgeon at the Rogue Regional Medical Centre in Medford, about an hour south of where we live in Merlin. All being well I should be out the same day but will need to take it easy for a couple of days thereafter. I’m curious about the experience of having a general anaesthetic; the first one I have had.
Also this week I need to get my head down and commit to another month of writing under the NaNoWriMo banner.
Last November, participating in the National Novel Writing Month was critical in me completing a draft start of 56,000 words of my book Learning from Dogs. Despite it not being a novel and despite me wanting to continue the draft rather that start another writing project, NaNoWriMo have accepted me for a second time. I’m very grateful because, fingers crossed, by the end of this coming November I should be within reach of my target of 120,000 words for a non-fiction book.
November also brings along a ’70’ birthday for me, a birthday for Jean later on in the month and our wedding anniversary in the middle of the month.
So you know where this is leading, don’t you!
Creative blog writing is going to be a little thin on the ground for the next four weeks – (What was that you said? Something about creative writing frequently being thin on the ground?!)
There will be a post every day but if I get squeezed for time I will repost something previously published in this place. I will also republish items of general interest that catch my eye on the broader front of the big-wide-web!
Going to close today by sharing a photograph of the recent solar eclipse. There have been many published but this one seemed especially beautiful. It was part of a set over on the EarthSky blogsite.
Please indulge me with this purely personal reflection.
My Uncle Peter died in his sleep at 1.30am UK time on Monday, the 21st May, 2012. He was 91 and had been suffering from declining health for a while.
As my parting gift from across the seas, I just wanted to record the great inspiration that he was to both me and my son, Alex.
Peter was a great gliding fan (sailplane in American speak!). He must have started gliding not many years after the end of the war in 1945. Anyway, when I was a young lad, back in the mists of time, my Uncle Peter took me for a glider flight. That left a memory in me that lay dormant for many years until the late 1970s when a colleague, Roger Davis, introduced me to the Rattlesden Gliding Club and that started a 25-year interest in gliding and later power flying.
My son, Alex, also when he was a young boy was taken up for his first flight in a glider by Uncle Peter and later flew with me many times both in gliders and power aircraft. Today he is a Senior Captain with a British airline.
So, dear Uncle Peter, what an aviation inspiration you have been for two generations.
As it happens, 1.30 am UK time on Monday the 21st was 5.30pm Arizonan time on Sunday the 20th. At that very moment, well 5.26pm to be precise, Jean and I were watching the solar eclipse and I took the photograph below of what was the partial eclipse here in Payson.
A tribute to a wonderful family man with a great sense of humour.