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  • Daniella Morrone

Access the Eclipse

We at Discover the Universe are dedicated to providing resources for everyone in the path of the April 8, 2024 eclipse. Towards this goal, we strive to include those who have physical disabilities, such as the Blind and Low Vision (BLV) community and the deaf and hard of hearing community. As the April 8, 2024 eclipse approaches, we acknowledge that eclipse resources are not always accessible to everyone. In this blog, you’ll find ways to enjoy the eclipse your way. After all, everyone can benefit from experiencing an eclipse firsthand!

One key way to make accessible content is by incorporating activities and resources that use more than one sense, or senses other than sight. Sonification, or translating typically visual information into sound, is a method that is used to make eclipse content more accessible for the BLV community. Two very notable projects for eclipse sonification are the Eclipse Soundscapes project and the LightSound Solar Eclipse Sonification tool

Eclipse soundscapes logo in front of a black circle representing the Moon with wispy red and yellow haze peeking out from behind the black circle representing the Sun blocked by the Moon during a solar eclipse.

The Eclipse Soundscapes is a NASA Citizen Science project that studies how eclipses affect life on Earth. With a focus on the 2023 annular solar eclipse and the 2024 total solar eclipse, this project has smartphone applications with sonar and rumble maps of annular and total eclipses at different phases, as well as narrated descriptions of each of these maps. The Eclipse Soundscapes app is available for Android devices and for Apple devices

LightSound logo of a musical eighth-note in front of a black circle representing the Moon with a white haze peeking out from behind the black circle representing the Sun blocked by the Moon during a solar eclipse. At the top right of this black circle, there is a yellow, oval haze where the circle meets the white haze. Below this black circle, LightSound is written in font that starts small, grows larger, then decreases in size again. Above the black circle, LightSound is written in English (U.S.) Braille.

The LightSound is a device developed by Harvard University for the BLV community as a tool to experience the solar eclipse with sound. The device detects light through a sensor and outputs sound based on the brightness. As the Sun is eclipsed by the Moon, the dimming of light causes the sound to decrease. The webpage for the LightSound project explains how to make one of these devices yourself and has a form for requesting a free pre-built LightSound device. The French version of these instruction manuals was translated with the help of Canadian astrophysicists at the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets.

Another sense that can be utilized for learning about the eclipse is touch. Below we highlight one of a series of Braille books created by the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which provide tactile learning opportunities.

Getting a Feel for Eclipses Book Cover.

Getting a Feel for Eclipses includes general eclipse information, as well as specifics regarding the 2017 total solar eclipse, the 2023 annular solar eclipse, and the 2024 total solar eclipse. With text written in Braille, this book also has tactile representations of the eclipse, including the alignment of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon, the phases of a total eclipse, and the paths across the U.S. of the three eclipses listed above. On the SSERVI website, there is more information about the Getting a Feel for Eclipses book and eclipses in general. 

While this book is a great resource to envision tactile eclipse content, it is unfortunately not available to purchase in Canada at this time, nor does it cover Canadian content, such as the path of eclipses over Canadian regions. There is an effort underway within Canada to create tactile astronomy books in French and English. Despite being focused on the eclipse experience in the United States, Getting a Feel for Eclipses demonstrates the benefit and possibility of tactile astronomy resources.

Moreover, Discover the Universe and other organizations have adapted and are currently adapting pre-existing activities to be more tactile and multisensory.

A great way to understand the physical sizes and distances of an eclipse and the Earth-Moon-Sun system is a scale model. SSERVI provides multiple activities with modifications for the BLV community, including creating a solar eclipse model using tactile and sonication methods.

Discover the Universe is currently developing many activities that encourage interdisciplinary learning and multisensory experiences of the eclipse. Specifically, an activity module on how to observe the drop in luminosity during an eclipse is currently in process of being developed. This activity will be multisensory and a unique way to experience an eclipse. It will be useful to observers both outside and within the path of totality. Interdisciplinary activities being developed by Discover the Universe – such as art projects, history discussions, and mathematical representations of an eclipse – are also great ways to teach about eclipses from different perspectives. As these activities become available, they will be linked on our Eclipse 2024 webpage.

There is more than one way to observe a solar eclipse, more than one way to learn about them, and more than one way to appreciate them. By including accessible activities and resources in your classroom you can empower individuals with physical disabilities to engage in lessons, while complementing various learning styles and promoting multisensory learning. Accessibility benefits everyone!

We thank the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets for the support in writing this article. Check out their multisensory eclipse adventure article!


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