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Exploring the Total Solar Eclipse With the CfA

July 26, 2017

On August 21, 2017, millions of people across North America will experience something for the first time in their lives: a total solar eclipse.  Scientists around the world, including several groups at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), are taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to view and study the Sun for the scientific community and the public at large.

The breadth of CfA activities related to the upcoming total solar eclipse ranges from detailed studies of the physics of the Sun to animal behavior and more. These projects include the following:

The Airborne Infrared Spectrometer (AIR-Spec) for Solar Eclipse Observations:

During the eclipse, a team of CfA scientists will observe the Sun from a Gulfstream aircraft flying at 50,000 feet over Kentucky during the period of totality. They will be carrying instruments designed to take detailed measurements of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, in infrared wavelengths.

Eclipse Soundscapes:

This project will use a specially designed app to allow citizen scientists to record environmental sounds before, during, and after the upcoming total solar eclipse, when the soundscape of natural environments changes dramatically. These recordings will enable anyone around the world, including the blind and visually impaired, to experience this rare event.

SAO Eclipse App:

This app will deliver a live NASA stream of the eclipse as it travels across the continental United States, calculate a user’s view with an interactive eclipse map, and give a virtual view in an eclipse simulator. Users will also learn about solar research at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, part of the CfA, and get even closer to the sun with near-live views from space.


The MicroObservatory is a robotic network of telescopes operated by the CfA for research and public outreach purposes. During the eclipse, MicroObservatory facilities in Massachusetts and Arizona will be observing the eclipse from above and below the path of totality. Science education specialists will be engaging users by creating eclipse animations, and calculating the distance of the moon by comparing the two image sets.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

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Megan Watzke

Solar eclipse