by Hugh McDonald, producer
On August 21, 2017, the US will witness one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events: a solar eclipse. In fact, it’s the first time totality will be visible only in the US since 1776. It might not be surprising that scientists and sky-watchers alike are paying special attention to the heavens this year.
That’s why Ideum was pleased to work with the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley to create Eclipse Megamovie Mobile, a new app for anyone interested in the science of our solar system. Ideum worked with Space Sciences Laboratory staff to design an innovative set of features for amateur astronomers and space scientists alike. Initially developed for Android and with an iOS version soon to be released, the app provides a variety of ways for citizen scientists to see and study the eclipse, whether they use their smartphones or a separate DSLR.
One feature helps people use their smartphones to take great photos of the eclipse. Taking good astronomical photos requires a steady hand and precise exposure control. The app actually controls the phone’s camera shutter and exposure settings and shoots a series of images to capture the entire event. It also guides users through setting up a tripod, adding an external lens, and shooting the eclipse with a DSLR. (People who use DSLRs may also have their images included in a crowd-sourced eclipse movie created by Google.)
But the app does more than take photos. Everyone who uses Eclipse Megamovie Mobile is part of the Megamovie Project, a group of scientists who study eclipses and what they reveal about our sun. With permission, users’ eclipse images and time and location data are sent to project scientists, creating a massive dataset of observations from around the country that scientists can use for years to come.
In addition, the app provides information about the eclipse’s path of totality, the narrow strip of territory where the sun’s disk will be completely obscured by the moon. An easy-to-use map shows the eclipse’s path across the country and the user’s quickest route to it. The app also includes a precise countdown clock keyed to the user’s location along the eclipse path, reminders as the eclipse approaches, and a built-in practice mode to get set for the big event. Ultimately, these features join app users and scientists in an innovative collaboration to investigate the science and wonder of one of nature’s great spectacles. Eclipse Megamovie Mobile stands as a powerful example of the power of new partnerships—and new ideas.