If you’re lucky enough to be in the path of the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, you can be a part of history.
The Eclipse Megamovie project, a collaboration between the University of California, Berkeley, and Google, is designed to create a lasting photo archive for scientists studying the sun’s corona. It has recently released an app, created by Ideum and available for Android and iOS, to make it easy for “citizen scientists” to take photos of the eclipse with their smart phones and upload them to the project.
Certified eclipse glasses, which should be worn by eclipse observers in the periods before and after totality, can be adapted for use to serve as a protective camera filter. Once properly aimed and protected, the Eclipse Megamovie Mobile app pinpoints a user’s location. It will automatically start taking periodic snapshots throughout the eclipse’s span of totality, including the 15 seconds after it has ended to capture the “diamond ring” effect. Upon connection to Wi-Fi, it will prompt a user to upload the images and other data to the project.
“The app is going to do everything for you, so you just need to enjoy the eclipse,” said solar physicist Juan Carlos Martínez Oliveros, part of the project’s team at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. “The idea is to create a unique new type of dataset that can be studied by scientists for years to come. It’s really an experiment in using crowd-sourcing to do solar science, which will hopefully pave the way for much future work.”
The total solar eclipse will be the first visible from the continental U.S. since 1979. It will begin on the Oregon coast and, after traversing the country in a band about 70 miles wide over the course of 90 minutes, will end off the coast of South Carolina. Some outside that region will be able to observe a partial solar eclipse.
The project has also assembled a group of 1,500 officially trained volunteers to photograph the eclipse; images will be stitched together into a short, time-lapse movie of the full path of the eclipse that should be ready to view by the evening of Aug. 21. Scientists will use these images to learn more about the sun’s atmosphere, especially the corona—the luminous haze of hot, ionized plasma that shoots out of the sun—and the chromosphere at its base that is typically lost in the glare of the solar disk. The information gleaned will also contribute to studies of the shape and size of the sun itself.