National Park scientists plan to listen to the eclipse

Listening to the Eclipse: National Park Service scientists join Smithsonian, NASA in nationwide project
Credit: National Park Service Photo

“It is not just a visual event in seeing totality. It’s a drop in temperature that’s associated with it. The reactions of the animals that might be around.”

-Astronomer/Eclipse Chaser Glenn Schneider 

Millions will gather Monday to watch the shadow of the Great American Eclipse traverse across the United States. While it will be a visual phenomena, scientist won’t only  document what can be seen. They’ll also be documenting what can be heard.

National Park Service scientist will join the Smithsonian and NASA in a nationwide project to record the sounds of the total solar eclipse.

Will insects that typically become active at night become vocal? Will birds that sing during daylight become silent? Believe it or not, the changes to the soundscape that occur during an eclipse have not been well studied. The National Park Service says Monday, scientist will make audio recordings in 17 parks spanning the nearly 2700 miles across the United States.

Astronomer and eclipse chaser Dr. Glenn Schneider says  “It is not just a visual event in seeing totality. It’s a drop in temperature that’s associated with it. The reactions of the animals that might be around. The reactions of the people that may be around.”

One Shirt = One Tree
Plant a Seed

The research is part of the Eclipse Soundscapes project, which hopes to share the acoustic sounds of the eclipse with more people.

The National Park Service says most of the parks involved in the audio project are located on the eclipse path and will experience a near or total eclipse of the sun. Two of the parks are located outside the path, and will give researchers audio information on the effects of partial eclipse conditions. Combined, the NPS sites span a wide range of plant and animal communities.

“We could see dramatic changes… a few papers have been published, but no one has looked at this phenomenon on a continental scale.”

-NPS scientist Dr. Kurt Fristrup

Scientist will place the audio equipment in areas sheltered from wind and human interference and they will capture and analyze sound the day of the eclipse as well as days before and after the celestial event.

NSNSD_AudioPrepare_EclipseSoundscapes_JulieWest
Credit: Julie West/National Park Service

Hearing totality is also important to the visually impaired. In fact, the idea for Eclipse Soundscapes came from Dr. Henry “Trae” Winter, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian CfA with a penchant for scientific engagement projects. Winter noticed a deficit in accessibility while building a solar wall exhibits for museums. He observed that some “accessible” exhibits merely included the item’s name in braille, while other exhibits — including his own — had no accessibility component at all. Winter began to brainstorm an astrophysics project that would use a multisensory approach to engage a larger percentage of the population, including the visually impaired community. The “Great American Eclipse” of August 2017 seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“It is clear that animals respond to the eclipse,” said participating NPS scientist Dr. Kurt Fristrup with the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. “The question is going to be: how much of that response is detectable acoustically? We could see dramatic changes. Past research has studied individual sites during an eclipse, and a few papers have been published, but no one has looked at this phenomenon on a continental scale.”

The Eclipse Soundscapes project also invites citizens to collect their own audio data during Monday’s eclipse. The records will be part of a free, open source, sound database.

All rights reserved. Enjoy The Silence 2017

Liked it? Take a second to support Nick Ortego on Patreon!