The Great American Solar Eclipse is happening on August 21st, if you haven't already heard! Why is this such a hyped up event? It is true that solar eclipses happen fairly often-- twice a year in fact. However, because of the Earth's tilt and the relation of the Moon's orbit around the Earth, things don't always line up perfectly. Even so, the solar eclipse is only viewable to a narrow strip of Earth, and at 75% water, many total solar eclipses are only seen from the ocean. The 2017 Solar Eclipse is actually the only solar eclipse to transverse (and be visible) across the entire United States in 99 years! Pretty neat, right? So don't miss out on this event of a lifetime!
We have put together some activity suggestions, tips, resources, and an event planning guide to make the most of the upcoming Great American Solar Eclipse!
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However you plan to view the eclipse, set the stage with your kids with some fun hands-on activities.
- Create a pinhole projector - To prevent eye damage, viewing the solar eclipse requires eye protection. While you can purchase special solar safety glasses, another option is to build a pinhole projector! Find directions online, or make it an engineering design challenge (see next section).
- Experiment with UV sensitive beads. Make bracelets or figurines with UV beads and pipecleaners. Then test different materials to see if they prevent the ultraviolet light from reaching the beads when covered.
- Make Total Solar Eclipse Art. What will you see during totality? Totality is the maximum phase of a total solar eclipse when the new Moon completely covers the Sun. Show students pictures of a total Solar Eclipse and label the different parts of the Sun that will be visible. Then create chalk art as described here.
- Launch some rockets! The Sun's corona (the gaseous, glowy envelope surrounding the Sun) is only visible during a total solar eclipse. To collect this valuable data, scientists use satellites and astronauts on the International Space Station. Well, how do we get satellites and astronauts into space? ROCKETS! Not many things get kids as excited as launching a rocket. One option is to purchase a model rocket to wow the crowd before the eclipse (we recommend the Estes Alpha III). Or, you can go the homemade route for a hands-on design experience. Try making straw, balloon, or stomp rockets. Have the kids test out various number and shape of fins. Ask further questions like: What shape of nosecone works best? How can you make your rocket fly higher or straighter?
- Set up a photo booth showing the total solar eclipse and an astronaut. People can choose to be in the hole of the Total Solar Eclipse or be the astronaut!
- Rent a Moon Jump! While waiting for the solar eclipse pretend you are on the moon bouncing around at 1/3 less gravity!
- Play an eclipse themed game of washers! Set up the washers game and place poster board or cloth over the game boards. Cut out the three holes to match the board and label and color them "Sun", "Moon", and "Earth" in the order of the eclipse alignment. This provides a good visual reminder of what is going on in space as well as a fun activity for all ages. Try to toss the washer into all three holes in order of Sun, Moon, and Earth. For the littlest kids, I recommend using bean bags like these instead of washers. It is easier for them to hold and toss.
Hosting an Eclipse Event
You have the ideas and you have the excitement, but.... you are in class, or at work, or maybe just at home with the kids by yourself. Offer to host an educational event in celebration of the eclipse!
First go here to determine when the solar eclipse occurs and what it will look like in your location. Depending on the time of day and audience, start planning some activities to entertain and educate while the eclipse reaches its maximum point at your location.
In addition to ideas listed above, we can help you do some of the preliminary work with our Pinhole Projector Challenge and Solar Eclipse Event Guide.
Looking for an engineering design challenge for the solar eclipse? This guide walks students through a mission to build a viewer that will allow them to see the solar eclipse without damaging their eyes. The handouts include an educator guide with links to resources, Solar and Lunar Eclipse information sheet, eclipse picture comparison and vocab sheet, and pinhole projection science handout.
Hosting a Solar Eclipse Viewing Party? The party planning pages include banners, activity notes, instructions, and fact sheets for 3 activity stations to keep kids entertained while watiitn on the big celesial show!
- Ultraviolet light sensor making
- Pinhole projectors
- Solar eclipse art
Eclipse Gear and Grub
Most importantly, we can't stress enough the importance in protecting your eyes when viewing the eclipse. To watch the eclipse safely, you will need to either make a projector, or wear solar viewing glasses. You can find directions on making a pinhole projector using our design challenge, or NASA's eclipse kit. Solar eclipse glasses must meet ISO 12312-2 and can be found on Amazon like this pack of 4 or this pack of 25.
Now if you really want get into the spirit, head to Svaha--a fabulous online store full of smart apparel, and grab one of there awesome Solar Eclipse tees for the whole family. I got mine and it even glows in the dark! Yep, you are jealous.
If the solar eclipse is happening around a meal or snack time, you need some themed goodies! Here are some ideas for your Solar Eclipse Viewing Party to be extra sweet and savory:
- Sun Chips
- Moon Pies
- Moon, Sun, or solar eclipse decorated sugar cookies
- Moon and star shaped cut-outs of fruit or veggies
- Cheeseball "Suns"
- Rocket Dogs
Need more ideas? Here are the sites we found more useful for preparing a party or educational experience related to the solar eclipse.
- NASA's eclipse kit
- Space.com Solar eclipse apps
- American Astronomical Society Eclipse Vocabulary Glossary
- Eclipse Map and Science Facts
- Sky & Telescope book and video resources
- NASA JPL eclipse presentation and downloadable postcard from
- Mr. Eclipse – History, Photographs and Lots of Background on Eclipses–
- NSTA – Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More –
We hope you all get to witness this rare event! Let us know how you plan to watch the solar eclipse.