Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

An Educational Solar Eclipse Road Trip

On August 21, 2017, people across the United States witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Juliana Rorbeck, one of our ProQuest editors, traveled to Nashville, TN–the largest city along the path of totality–to observe the spectacular Great American Solar Eclipse firsthand.

Eclipse or Bust

When I first heard about a solar eclipse that would be visible from Oregon to South Carolina, I knew it would absolutely be worth seeing in person. After researching various cities along the path of totality–wherever the moon completely blocks out the sun–I chose Nashville. My fiancé and I decided to make a road trip of it.

A Shortage of Glasses

Seven days before the eclipse, most stores were already sold out of solar eclipse glasses. Certain online retailers were even caught selling fake pairs of glasses. With all of the information swirling around about how staring at the sun, even briefly, can cause permanent eye damage, this caused a bit of panic, especially in South Florida. After calling up four stores and going to five locations, we ended up finding our solar eclipse glasses at a 7-Eleven. Talk about a close call. Even though glasses are not necessary to view totality, the before-and-after views are equally spectacular and incredible. We were ready.

Hitting the Road

On Friday, Aug. 18th we rented a car and drove from Boca Raton, FL, to St. Augustine. Over the course of the weekend, we explored Savannah, walked through small towns in Georgia such as Waynesboro, spent the night in Athens, and drove around the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Blairsville, GA, I found a painted rock commemorating the eclipse.

Painted rock found in Blairsville, GA. (Credit: Juliana Rorbeck)

Eclipse rock. (Credit: Juliana Rorbeck)

For entertainment, I brought along some eclipse reading material and we prepared ourselves to look for certain phenomena such as the Baily’s beads effect. This happens when sunlight streams through the valleys and craters of the moon and the last brilliant blast of light creates the illusion of a massive diamond ring hovering in the sky.

The night before the eclipse we took in the sights around downtown Nashville. People had poured in from all over the country to celebrate. Since we had booked a flight home that departed soon after the eclipse ended, we realized that the Nashville International Airport would make for a fine eclipse viewing location.

The Eclipse

ProQuest editor Juliana Rorbeck awaits the eclipse with family in Nashville on Aug. 21, 2017. (Credit: Juliana Rorbeck)

On Monday afternoon we congregated outside one of the terminals with dozens of fellow travelers. I spoke with people who had traveled from as far as Maine and Puerto Rico to watch the event.

Then the sunlight grew dim. A minute before totality, just before 1:27 in the afternoon, there was an amazing shimmering effect that could be seen all over the ground. Suddenly everything looked as though we were underwater. People gasped and pointed. The air grew less hot, even cool, the midday summer heat gone within seconds. We saw a great diamond–Baily’s beads–and then the thinnest silver ring. The sun had vanished behind the moon. Completely.

People gather in front of the Nashville International Airport to record the Great American Eclipse during totality on August 21, 2017. (Credit: Juliana Rorbeck)

People took out their phones to try to record the moment. A few folks captured it on their cameras, but most people simply looked around in amazement. Some even cried. The best way I can describe it is by saying it was a 360-degree sunset. Dusk everywhere you looked. It was strange enough to spend so much time intently focusing on the brightest point in the sky, only for it to be plunged into darkness.

The edge of the sun peeked out from behind the moon. Before I could wrap my mind around what I’d seen, it was over.

From the Boca Raton Office

While Boca Raton did not fall under the path of totality for this eclipse, ProQuest editors got to see a partial eclipse at 2:57 pm.

This is an unfiltered photo taken by a cell phone camera of the partial eclipse. Notice the lens reflection on the bottom right.

(Credit: Jennifer Oms)

Shadows from leaves created hundreds of crescent shapes along the ground.

(Credit: Kimberly Carpenter)

Editor Jennifer Oms used a paper plate with a pinhole in the middle and a piece of paper on the ground to see the partial eclipse.

ProQuest Editor Jennifer Oms created a pinhole viewer to observe the partial eclipse. (Credit: Jennifer Oms)

Still Curious about the 2024 Eclipse or Other Space Sciences?

Check out SIRS Issues Researcher to learn more about space exploration.

Space Exploration & Travel Leading Issue in SIRS Issues Researcher

The Total Solar Eclipse and Scientific Literacy

On August 21st, around 1:24 pm Central Standard Time, on the historical Orchard Dale Farm just outside the little hamlet of Cerulean, Kentucky, there will be a few curious humans wearing all manners of strange sunglasses staring up in the sky to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event: a total solar eclipse.

Path of Totality

Animated Video of the Path of Totality (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

Unlike the thousands of other eclipse worshipers in the nearby town of Hopkinsville, where there will be a well-planned festival with live music and parades, the few hardcore eclipse fanatics who are precise in their geographical coordinates will visit this farm because it is the spot where the eclipse’s greatest coverage, and one of the longest in duration, can be viewed. A total solar eclipse is where the earth crosses the shadow of the moon, completely obscuring the sun and cutting off all direct rays of sunlight to earth. Stars will appear, the earth will cool, and the moon’s black disk will exhibit a halo around its edge from the sun’s corona.

This spectacular eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse in the United States since 1991 and the first coast-to-coast in nearly 100 years. The path of totality will cast a shadow 70 miles wide and will first present itself on the Pacific coast of Oregon near Salem, and then proceed across the heart of the country before exiting the Atlantic coast near Charleston, South Carolina.

Events like solar eclipses are great teachable moments for educators to not only teach students about eclipses but also for students to become more science literate. Science literate students, whether or not they go on to science-related careers or not, become a more informed public, and a more informed public means better decision making.

One of the goals of science literacy (and by extension, the scientific method) is to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. For science educators teaching astronomy, science literacy is not not just about explaining the world around us, but also explaining and predicting the behavior of other objects in our solar system, such as the sun and our moon, and our relationship with those extraterrestrial bodies.

Today, astronomers can now easily predict such things as the precise times and places of various celestial events such as meteor showers, comet visitations, and of course solar eclipses; not only the precise time an eclipse will happen at a particular location, but also where and when the longest duration and greatest extent of an eclipse. eLibrary can assist science teachers toward the goal of helping students become science literate. It has a wealth of information on all things astronomical, including its Research Topic on solar and lunar eclipses. Be sure to check out these and other resources at the end of this blog.

So, where will you be viewing the solar eclipse? Can’t be there? Too far away from the path of totality? For those who can’t watch the eclipse live, you can visit NASA’s Total Eclipse website and view their Eclipse Live Stream page here.

Parisians, circa 1912, Viewing a Solar Eclipse

Parisians, circa 1912, Viewing a Solar Eclipse (Wikimedia Commons)

If you decide to view the total eclipse in person, there are a few safety precautions you should take before attempting it. First, if you plan on looking directly into the sun, be sure you have the proper solar filter sunglasses for viewing. Using anything else will risk severe eye damage or blindness. If you are within the path of totality you may remove your solar filtered sunglasses briefly when the moon completely covers the sun but be sure to replace your solar viewers soon after to watch the departing eclipse. An alternative method for viewing the eclipse is the pinhole projection. Simply punch a hole in an index card or a sheet of cardboard and project an image onto a nearby surface. Alternatively, hold out and cross your hands in front of you with your fingers of both hands slightly stretched open to project the sun onto the ground in front of you and watch the projection of the spaces between your fingers change as the eclipse takes place. For more indepth safety tips for viewing the solar eclipse, visit NASA’s eclipse page on viewing safety here.

Finally, for those of you who plan to view the eclipse along the path of totality: Happy sun gazing and here’s wishing for clear skies!

Here are some eLibrary Research Topics and other helpful articles that will assist you in viewing and understanding the upcoming solar eclipse:


Are They Just Right? The Discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 Planetary System and Their ‘Goldilocks’ Potential

In the past several months science educators teaching astronomy and space exploration probably haven’t needed a lot to motivate science students who are endlessly fascinated with the possibility of life outside our own planet. The recent discovery of seven planets around TRAPPIST-1 (a star named for the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope in Chile) has provided teachers new seeds to plant into the imagination of young minds interested in exoplanetary discovery. eLibrary can help feed that imagination with loads of resources.

In May 2016 researchers in Chile reported in the journal Nature the discovery of three planets with sizes and temperatures similar to Venus and Earth orbiting around an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years away in the Aquarius constellation. Earlier this year NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, along with the Very Large Telescope Array at Paranal in Chile, confirmed two of those planets, and then found five more exoplanets. Of the seven, three are presently believed to fall within the habitability zone (the ‘goldilocks’ zone), that area around a star in which rocky planets may hold liquid water and harbor life.

TRAPPIST-1, the star which these planets orbit, is classified as an ultra-cool dwarf. The star is so cool that water in liquid form could exist on planets that are even closer in orbit than Mercury is to our sun. In the years to come, if further observations reveal oxygen in any of the planet’s atmosphere, which could point to photosynthesis of plants, there is a good probability life can exist on these planets.

eLibrary has recent news information on this discovery as well as Research Topics on exoplanets, habitable planets, and general information on astronomy, cosmology, and space exploration that can help your students dive deeper into the questions of life existing elsewhere in our galaxy and beyond.

Here are some things scientists know thus far about TRAPPIST-1 and its planets:

  1. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planet’s orbit is closer than Mercury’s orbit around our sun.
  2. TRAPPIST-1 is much cooler and redder than the sun, and only slightly larger than Jupiter, which is about a tenth of the size of the sun.
  3. Because the planets are so close to TRAPPIST-1, all seven planets appear to be in a gravitational lock. That is, one side of each planet permanently faces the star, just as our moon is gravitationally locked and we only see one side of it.
  4. One year on the closest planet orbiting TRAPPIST-1 is equal to just 1.5 earth days. The farthest planet’s yearly orbit is equal to 18.8 earth days.
  5. If you were standing on one of the planets, each of the other planets would appear prominently in the sky, and at times appearing much larger than the moon does in our sky.
  6. TRAPPIST-1 is a mere 40 light-years away. In layman’s terms, that’s still 235 trillion miles away.

The Brightest Supernova Ever Seen!

Supernova Research Topic

Supernova Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Admittedly, it is hard to think of something that happened 2.8-billion years ago as “Breaking News,” but that is what astronomers are calling ASASSN-15lh. In May 2015, a new light source appeared in the skies in the Southern Hemisphere. A new supernova (ASASSN-15lh) was found as part of the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae in Cerro Tololo, Chile. Astronomers believe that this is the most luminous supernova ever observed. In fact, it is so bright that it shines with the luminosity of 572 billion suns. That’s billion with a “B.” ASASSN-15lh is an exploding star that belongs to the “superluminous” class which has luminosities 10 to 100 times that of normal supernovae. A few dozen of these enormous blasts have been spotted in the past decade, but this “new” one is about twice as bright as any of them. It appears just off the Tucana constellation in the southern sky, so you have to be in the Southern Hemisphere to see it.

Will our Sun go supernova some day?

The Sun Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

A new star being formed or the remains of a supernova?

Nebula Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary










In the year 1006, Earthlings were startled to see a supernova with the naked eye – an exploding star so bright that it could be seen during the daytime. But don’t go out looking for ASASSN-15lh with just a pair of binoculars; this supernova is so many light years away it can only be seen with the assistance of a very large telescope.

You can search for supernovas and other out-of-this-world topics in eLibrary.

Here are just a few of our Space-related resources:

Astronomy (Magazine)

Astrophysics (Research Topic)

Cosmology (Research Topic)

DK Eyewitness Space Exploration (Reference Book)

Galaxies (Research Topic)

Johannes Kepler & the New Astronomy (Book)

Observatories (Research Topic)

Solar System (Research Topic )

Topic Browse for Astronomy


The Next Giant Leap? NASA’s Bold New Missions

Last December NASA successfully launched the unmanned Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, a test flight that lasted over four hours and two trips around the earth. NASA hopes that this maiden voyage is the beginning of what will be their next giant leap: The Journey to Mars.

First things first, however. As a precursor, NASA has developed the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) where it intends to identify and redirect a near-earth asteroid in a stable orbit around the moon. In the 2020s the goal will be to send astronauts aboard Orion to explore the asteroid and bring back samples. ARM is also part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, which includes the Asteroid Grand Challenge, an initiative that is designed to identify and relocate potentially hazardous asteroids away from Earth. But the Asteroid Redirect Mission is clearly a stepping stone for the greatest leap that mankind has ever taken.

45 Years ago when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the Moon, it sparked the whole country’s imagination and already our thoughts had turned toward one day manning a flight to Mars. With the development and testing of Orion, that next great leap has begun. As part of the plan, NASA has begun developing technologies, such as new space suits, asteroid sampling techniques, and solar power technology to move large cargo from earth’s orbit into deep space around the moon. All these developments will help NASA make great strides toward the ultimate goal of a human expedition to Mars in the 2030s.

You can find a host of information by doing basic and advanced keyword searches for resources on specific missions to Mars, Near-Earth objects such as asteroids, and other NASA space missions, including information on NASA’s two new missions. Check out our Research Topics on the planet Mars, Mars Exploration, Mars Rover and Pathfinder Missions, and Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), as well as one covering asteroids.

You can also browse eLibrary in the Browse by Topic section of eLibrary:

Exploration & Missions to Mars
Space Exploration & Technology
Space Missions & Programs

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity Published

Illustration of the Distortion of Space-Time Caused by the Sun's Mass

In April 2004 NASA sent into space the Gravity Probe B satellite on a mission to prove a couple of postulations published 98 years ago this week by a man considered by many the greatest intellectual mind ever. On May 4, 2011, seven years after the probe was launched, the experiments finally confirmed two predictions by Albert Einstein‘s theory of general relativity: the warping, or curving, of space and time (space-time) around Earth; and frame-dragging, the amount of space-time that is dragged around Earth by its rotation. Thursday, March 20th, marks the landmark date when Einstein published those arguments, and others, under his theory of gravity in “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity.”

Gravity Probe BEven though Einstein worked these theories out mathematically, to get a practical sense of what these principles meant, there are two analogies most frequently used. First, with the warping of space-time around a large mass, imagine a large, heavy ball (representing the Sun) placed in the center of a thin, stretched sheet of rubber (representing space). The ball presses down in the middle of the sheet causing a depression, or curvature. When another smaller ball (representing Earth) is tossed onto the sheet it will circle and roll toward the larger ball. Einstein posited that gravity was not some mysterious gravitational force, as Isaac Newton thought, but merely smaller objects traveling through space along a curve toward the larger ones with enough mass that warps space around them. With frame-dragging, think of Earth as being immersed in honey. As the Earth rotates, the honey around it would swirl. And so it would with space and time.

Although measuring these two effects by the Gravity Probe B has led to practical applications in the improvement in aeronautics and GPS technologies, for astrophysicists and cosmologists it has fueled further interest in black holes. It is believed that objects with much more mass than our earth or sun can warp space-time fabric so much that they can create a hole where space itself falls into and where even light cannot escape.

Is gravity nothing more than the motion of objects around other, more massive objects which distort and curve the fabric of space-time?  Are there objects so massive where even light cannot escape? To dig deeper into these questions, and more on Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity, visit eLibrary and view the resources below.

Research Topics:

Albert Einstein
Black Holes
Isaac Newton

eLibrary Browse by Topic:

Black Holes
Light & Special Relativity

The Geminids Meteor Shower in December

A meteor shower lights up the sky over the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl near the village San Nicolas..

The Geminids, one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year, has its highest number of visible meteors around December 14th. However, this year’s display will be subdued for most of watching hours because of the approaching full moon on December 17th.  But that shouldn’t stop you from looking for it. Even with a near-full moon, during its peak it may be possible to see over 100 meteors in an hour, and with it, maybe a few bright fireballs.

The GeminidsThe Geminids gets its name from the Gemini constellation from where it seems to emanate,  but the meteors can appear nearly anywhere in the sky. Unlike other meteor showers, the Geminids originate from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon rather than a comet.

For those of you living in the city with a considerable amount of ambient light it’s advisable to leave the city behind in order to get the full effect of the Geminids. Considering the complication of a full moon, you’ll need to wake early and rub the sleep from your eyes. The best viewing should be on the 13th and 14th of December from the time the moon sets in early morning until dawn.

Be sure to check out eLibrary to help you research the Geminids and other prominent meteor showers like the Perseids and Leonids.

Research Topics:




Meteor Showers



Australasian Science

Natural History

Science News

eLibrary Topics:






Comet ISON: Will It Sizzle or Fizzle?

Comet ISON Research Topic

The big question over the past year about Comet ISON’s potential visibility since its discovery in September 2012 has been this: will it sizzle or fizzle? When the comet was first discovered some thought it would be the “comet of the century.” Since that time, the prediction of its brightness and visibility has dimmed considerably. But most experts say that if comets are anything they are unpredictable.

Comet ISON is classified as a sungrazing comet. All comets orbit and come close to the Sun, but sungrazing comets like ISON come much closer to the Sun at perihelion (its closest point to the Sun). In fact, some come so close to the Sun that they either vaporize or they fragment and come apart. Such could be the case with Comet ISON. According to the NASA-supported Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC), when Comet ISON swings around the Sun on November 28th it will be at its brightest, coming within three solar radii at perihelion. However, since it will be so close to the Sun during the daylight hours it will be invisible to the eye. Considering the unpredictability of comets, if ISON vaporizes or comes apart while making its close pass to the sun, it could all but disappear. However, if ISON vaporizes and breaks apart after it has made its pass around the sun, visibility and brightness could be better than expected. If it does neither then ISON could be fairly unremarkable.

Look for ISON in the days and weeks after its emergence from the sun on November 28th as it climbs the east-southeast sky just before dawn. In the best case scenario, you’ll be able to see ISON with the naked eye. However, you’ll probably at least need binoculars or a small telescope.

You can learn more about Comet ISON and other comets in eLibrary through research topics, publications, and other resources.

Comet Research Topics:


Comet Hale-Bopp

Comet Hyakutake

Comet ISON

Halley’s Comet

Other Comet ISON & general comet and astronomy resources:

Asteroid and Comet Exploration (USA in Space article)

Astronomy (Publication)

Astronomy (Browse by Topic)

Comet (Hutchinson Encyclopedia)

Comet ISON Observing Campaign (Website)

Comets (Browse by Topic)

NASA Hubble Telescope Captures Comet ISON (NASA Website)

Science News (Publication)