Viewing the Eclipse Through a General Education Lens

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By now you have heard there is an eclipse happening on Monday August 21, 2017. What would be more exciting than viewing the Great American Eclipse through special safety glasses or a homemade pinhole box? Looking at the event through the lenses of four School of General Education disciplines of course! Below are five excerpts provided by Kaplan University faculty from their respective fields.

Composition

A total eclipse is a rare event, one that can be seen in any given area is rarer still. With so much digital paraphilia around to record the event, writing seems an auxiliary tool to fill space in publications and websites. Most of what is written tomorrow will be dry summaries of events, but that should not be the only writing that is done. Consider that ancient civilizations viewed all astronomical phenomena as a portent, so they documented all types of astrological events because of their importance to the social fabric. Experts still consider their impressive renderings on walls, paper, and cloth works of fine art. The most evocative documentation they left appears in writings. Witnesses composed physical descriptions that included the event but added the dimensions of observed human behavior and personal reactions. Centuries later, readers see the eclipse and how it impacted others through the ideas of writers. Among the eclipse glasses, pinhole cameras, and other tools should be a journal. Everyone—young and old—can record what they see and experience so that future generations learn not only that the moon passed between the sun and Earth on August 21, but also how people felt as they observed this rare phenomenon.

Humanities

Here in my hometown of Atlanta, the eclipse will occur at 2:37 pm and just in time for schools to face the question of what to do about it. The problem is that the solar eclipse poses a very real risk. Physicians have warned us that viewing the solar eclipse directly can cause temporary or even permanent eye damage. This raises the question: should teachers and school administrators keep children inside? At my daughter’s school, they have decided the safest course of action is to keep the children inside and view the eclipse on  television. Naturally my daughter wishes me to take her out of school so she can “not look” on her own terms. Schools across the nation are taking similar steps to protect curious eyes. They understand that simply telling children not to do something is often an invitation to defy the rule. It would be unethical for schools not to take precautions with this event which poses a risk. We certainly expect kids to stay inside during a tornado, thunderstorm, or any other potentially threatening natural event.  

To complicate matters, we are warned that some glasses being sold are actually fake and not safe at all. Popular Science explains that in the rush to produce and sell solar eclipse glasses some manufacturers have skipped the certification process that determines if enough light is blocked (Feltman, 2017). Like many of life’s events, the eclipse reveals the good and the bad in people. There will always be those who seek to profit at the expense of others. Thankfully there will also be those who seek to care and protect. It all comes down to motives which of course is ethics. How we respond to those who make unpopular decisions but who have good motives is also an ethical issue. I hope everyone will show patience for those entrusted to care for our children even if they err on the side of caution.

Science

Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them that is seemingly endless. Any parent who has tried to answer unanswerable questions such as “why is the sky blue” and “why is water wet” will concur. Children are born with a thirst for knowledge and a quest for answers. Many of these questions can be answered by science, but engaging children with science can sometimes be difficult. The solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, offers a unique opportunity to connect children with science with a built-in "wow factor" that they will likely only experience once in their lifetime.

As your junior scientists gaze into the sky on Monday, remind them that scientists from across the globe will be doing the exact same thing. Astronomers and other scientists will be gathering in various parts of the country to glean information about the solar eclipse. In fact, data gathered from the solar eclipse will be the inspiration for scientific experiments for decades to come. Scientists plan to use measurements and data gathered to learn more about the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, to determine the energy output of the sun.

While solar eclipses occur more often than you might think, they are typically only visible from certain parts of the world. Scientists predict that the next solar eclipse that will be visible from all places in the United States will not happen for over a century, so take advantage of this rare event to share some real life science with your children. Grab your protective eclipse glasses, and be prepared to answer a lot of questions!

Eclipse resources for families:

Social Sciences  

As a historian, total solar eclipses interest me. Many in ancient societies recorded total, solar eclipses on stone, tablets, papyrus, and parchment. But since Monday’s total, solar eclipse will traverse the United States, let us focus our attention on historical recordings of total, solar eclipses from the lands now known as the United States.

There are two ways to understand a documented history of total, solar eclipse depictions within the lands that we now know as the United States: written accounts and archeological depictions. In the modern era of astronomy (post American Civil War) there have been 15 total, solar eclipses between 1869 and 1979 recorded by astronomers within the United States (wunderground.com, 2017). Prior to modern, astronomical records historians must rely on textual and archeological evidence. A prime example of textual, historical evidence is the documented, total solar eclipse over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 24, 1778, by David Rittenhouse (greatamericaneclipse.com, 2017). Historians know about this event because David Rittenhouse corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and those letters are available at the Philadelphia Historical Society (Philadelphia Historical Society).

European colonists were not alone documenting total, solar eclipses. In 1869 CE a Lakota Native American artist created a winter coat that included depictions of the total, solar eclipse (Archeology Review, 2017). Early Pueblo people in today’s State of Colorado recorded on a petroglyph what the CU Boulder’s Department of Astrophysics and Planetary Science says may denote a total, solar eclipse from July 11, 1097 CE (Chaco Canyon, 2017). A petroglyph from an unknown people found in Arizona depicts an annual, solar eclipse (not total, solar eclipse) dating back to March 7, 1076 CE (Archaeology Review, 2017). Additionally, many Native American mythology directly reference solar eclipses. The Choctaw people include a wonderful story about a sun eaten by the black squirrel (Eclipse of the Sun, 2017). The Algonquian people have a brilliant story concerning a sun trapped by a snare that was later freed by a mouse (When Tcikabis Trapped The Sun, 2017).

Monday’s total, solar eclipse will be viewed, photographed, and otherwise documented by millions of Americans. Yet, historians know that previous people who lived on the same lands also took the time to record this wonderful, natural phenomenon.

Math

Eclipse
Photo credit: http://www.mathematicshed.com/

A solar eclipse happens when the moon’s “umbra,” its relatively small area of shadow on Earth, completely covers the face of the sun. This is a happy mathematical coincidence involving similar triangles between the distances and sizes of the moon and the sun.

Let’s consider the diameters of the sun and moon. The sun is approximately 1,391,000 km across (diameter) and the moon is approximately 3,475 km across (diameter). This means that the sun is about 400 times larger!

Let’s also consider the distances of the sun and moon from Earth. The sun’s farthest distance from us at about 152,000,000 km and the moon’s closest distance from us at about 360,000 km.

This means that the sun is approximately 422 times further away from Earth as compared to the moon.

Since the apparent size of any object is related to its distance to you, we have a happy mathematical coincidence: The diameter of the sun is about 400 times larger than the diameter of the moon AND the sun is about 400 times farther from Earth as compared to the moon. The moon and the sun look about the same size as each other! So, when the moon happens to pass in a straight line between Earth and the sun, we get a total solar eclipse!

New Perspectives

As you safely gaze at the eclipse, consider not only the magnificent event you’re witnessing, but also how much such events have impacted various fields of study throughout time and how you might even be inspired to take the next step toward a career in one of those areas by joining us at Kaplan University.

For more information about Kaplan University and its campus and online programs, click here.  

*At Kaplan University, your safety is our primary concern. Please take precautions if you plan to view the eclipse, including the use of special eclipse glasses that protect your eyes. NASA has outlined a safety plan for viewing the eclipse—please consult the website below for additional information.

Safety (2017) Retrieved from https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety

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References

American eclipse observations of the 17th and 18th Century. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/18th-century/

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://hsp.org/

Behind America’s decline in math, science, and technology. Newsweek. (2013) Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/11/13/behind-americas-decline-in-math-science-and-technology

Bennett, J. (2017). Understanding Eclipses. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.bigkidscience.com/eclipse/understanding/

Chaco Canyon petroglyph may represent ancient total eclipse. (2017, August 10). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/08/08/chaco-canyon-petroglyph-may-represent-ancient-total-eclipse

Eclipse of the Sun blamed on a Black Squirrel. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/EclipseOfTheSunBlamedOnBlackSquirrel-Choctaw.html

Feltman, R. (August 14, 2017). How to make sure your eclipse glasses actually work. Popular Science. Retrieved from http://www.popsci.com/fake-solar-eclipse-glasses

How often do solar eclipses occur? (2017) Retrieved from https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/how-often-solar-eclipse.html

(n.d.). Math Challenges. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/math-challenges

(n.d.). Mathematics of Total Solar Eclipse. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.mathematicshed.com

When Tcikabis Trapped The Sun. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://www.native-languages.org/atikstory.htm

Contributing Faculty

Stuart Collins, MA, Humanities and Social Sciences, (historical perspective)

Russell Fail, PhD, Humanities and Social Sciences, (philosophical perspective)

Annissa Furr, PhD, Science, (scientific perspective)

TK Kelly, MA, Composition/Writing Across the Curriculum, (writing perspective)

Kirsten Meymaris, MS, Math (math perspective)



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