The day has arrived! Listen carefully!
Listen?? Yes, and thanks to The Smithsonian, if you are blind or visually impaired!
What Does an Eclipse Sound Like?
A new app will allow blind and visually impaired users to experience the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21.
By Nathan Hurst
smithsonian.com August 14, 2017
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).
Many creatures become active as the sun sets, and many of them use darkness as an indicator of time of day. During an eclipse, crickets will chirp and frogs will chorus, thinking night has fallen. These habits were noted as far back as 1932, in a Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences article titled “Observations on the Behavior of Animals During the Total Solar Eclipse of August 31, 1932.”
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.