Solar eclipses happen every so often, but the one taking place on August 21st will be a first-of-its-kind event. That’s not because of the eclipse itself, but because of what the people in its path are doing. Google has partnered with the University of California Berkeley to collect an unprecedented amount of data from this total solar eclipse. All across the US, citizen scientists will be snapping photos to create a film documenting the eclipse’s path. You can even simulate the eclipse in your location on Google’s Megamovie project website.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the sun is completely covered by the moon. The eclipse on August 21st is important because it will cover the entire US from coast to coast. That hasn’t happened since 1918, and cameras were just a little less common back then. With the wonders of modern technology, Google and Berkeley aim to have a legion of at least 1,000 volunteers in the path of the eclipse taking photos. Those images will be assembled into a movie documenting the path of the eclipse.
The eclipse will be visible from a swath of the country passing through the states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. However, the band in which observers will see the total eclipse is only 72 miles wide. If you’re just a little outside that band, the moon won’t line up exactly with the sun.
You can see what the eclipse will look like from your backyard using Google’s simulator. Simply input your location, and watch as the time lapse shows you the progression of the eclipse. It defaults to 1,000x playback speed, but you can boost it to 4,000x. Note the times at the bottom of the playback controls. That will help you figure out when you should be snapping photos (and not looking at the sky without protection).
If you want to participate, simply sign in with your Google account and set up your profile. You need to input your location and what equipment you’ll be using to shoot. Google recommends a DSLR with GPS module, but you can also use a camera paired with a phone for GPS. A phone is acceptable, too, but Google recommends getting a clip-on zoom lens. You’ve still got a few months to prepare if you want to join the ranks of citizen scientists. The eclipse will take place August 21st during the late morning on the west coast and early afternoon on the east coast.