VINS Celebrates the ‘Solar Eclipse Across America’


Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
August 21st presents a rare and valuable opportunity for educators. This is the day of the “total solar eclipse,” a spectacle which will not be repeated for viewers in the United States until 2024. Jaws will drop across the country, as viewers along the eclipse’s path of totality – spanning from Oregon to South Carolina – will be able to see the moon entirely block out the sun. Despite the total eclipse only being visible along a relatively narrow range, residents of nearby states will get to see a Crescent Sun, as the moon travels to take a chunk out of the visible star. If you are not living in the direct path, you can determine the exact time to see the maximum eclipse in your area by viewing the Total Solar Eclipse Interactive Map.

​This total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-childhood opportunity. While solar eclipses do occur around every 18 months, much less frequently do they occur so that the totality is visible to so many in the United States. While this spectacle can easily catalyze curiosity in students of all ages, it must be leveraged carefully as directly viewing the eclipse can mercilessly damage the macula (the region of the eye’s retina adds detail to the center our vision). Show your students why and how staring at the sun can be so harmful to our vision with this four-minute episode of SciShow.  


Lunar Transit – Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

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As the video mentions, there are unsafe and safe ways to view the August eclipse. The least expensive and most accessible strategy is to build your own pinhole projector – a simple contraption you can make out of two pieces of sturdy paper. With this you’ll be able to watch the moon progress across the sun indirectly, with the moving image projected onto your paper viewing screen. Or you can go ahead and buy some eclipse glasses.
    For anyone who can’t make it anywhere near the path of totality to watch the eclipse – or for anyone who finds themselves under cloudy skies on August 21st – NASA will be live-streaming the whole thing!

Join us for VINS’ Solar Eclipse Celebration!

Just as people across the country will be hosting watch-parties and all sorts of celestial celebrations, so will the Vermont Institute of Natural Science! Come to VINS to create your own pinhole projector with which to safely view the eclipse, which begins just before 6PM UT (2PM EST). Additionally on the day of the eclipse, VINS will be taking visitors far beyond our own local star – with the introduction of our Starlab Deluxe ​Portable Planetarium!

Our tour of the stars will begin with the many familiar and unfamiliar figures that compose the clearest night sky. From investigating individual celestial bodies, we will then look into many ways they have been related to one another. This exciting new teaching tool will allow us to explore a wide range of topics, as we have five different presentation projectors to choose from. Join us on August 21st to try out three:

The Milky Way Star-field 
Take a look at a clearer night sky than you’ve ever seen before with the full star-field of the Milky Way. Realize the impact of light-pollution on our regular nightly views, and consider its impact on ecosystems near densely populated urban centers, and throughout the world. We will examine the familiar figures in our nightly sky, and dive deeper into space to see the lesser known goliaths which are often hidden, like the Magellanic clouds. Our StarLab will allow us to fast-forward through the Earth’s rotation to observe the motion of the stars – to ponder the practical applications that some more reliable stars have served throughout history.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage Team
The Constellations  
See the 48 major constellations – popularized by the creator of Curious George, H.A. Rey – in vivid color to familiarize yourself with the positions of the stars and planets. Orient yourself to your common night sky to prepare for your camping trips and various outdoor excursions. The Constellation cylinder explores the seasonality of nightly vistas, and thereby learn about the the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Greek Mythology
Discover the richness of Ancient Greek civilization through the richness of its storytelling tradition. The StarLab Greek Mythology cylinder is a lens through which to examine the Greek and Roman gods, and the tales which ultimately led them to the sky. Through the mythology, students will see the significance that these constellations held to ancient cultures, and the wealth of meaning peoples have attributed to them. This presentation will provoke students to imagine life absent of scientific explanation for many omnipresent observable phenomena – a life in which not every question could be answered via Google. We encourage participants to create their own creation myths to explain the many groups of neighboring stars which the Greek tradition may have neglected.
Composed by Ben Fletcher

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