The Science Channel – The Great American Eclipse
“I think the fact that there’s social media now that can put all of this into people’s hands within seconds live is really helping get this kind of science out to people who otherwise might not have experienced it before…” Amir Caspi
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/22/17 – On August 21, 2017 the sun and moon aligned perfectly and cut a swath of shadow across the heart of America. The Science Channel retrofitted its documentary machine to pre-prepare a solar profile explaining the science and history of the eclipse merged with live coverage of the super bowl of solar events throughout the day on multiple platforms; an uncontroversial merger of Media, Science and Community conjoined in a looky-loo ritual as ancient as mankind itself. In human history, the total eclipse was so traumatic and profound an event, it jump started predictive astrology as far back as the Babylonian Empire.
In its fastest turnaround ever for a documentary feature, The Great American Eclipse followed three teams of scientists tracking the solar event that cast a 73 mile wide shadow of darkness across the heartland of America, taking in 14 states and cities such as Salem, St. Louis, Nashville and Charleston culminating in a prime-time 9:00 p.m. broadcast of The Great American Eclipse on The Science Channel the night of the event.
The event itself is improbable and rare. However the science behind the event is even more amazing. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, however by spooky coincidence, the moon is also 400 hundred times closer to the earth than the sun; this means the moon appears the same size as the sun as it passes in front of the gassy giant, completely blotting out the light and plunging the viewing area into total darkness.
Of interest to science is not only the sun’s surface, but its outer atmosphere – the corona – which is actually hotter than the surface of the sun itself. In tracking the activity and behavior of the stormy corona, scientists hope improve their ability to predict solar storms that have the capability to zap our satellite technology; plunging the earth into total darkness for much longer than the few minutes resulting from an eclipse.
The allegory of the eclipse occurring at this time in our history is obvious but absent from The Science Channel’s profile. Here we have a once in a lifetime event, knifing across America, plunging the heartland into total darkness before finally giving way to light and a shared sense of spirituality and community among the those who witnessed the event. Thanks to science, we can enjoy the Eclipse today as a naturally occurring event with no apocalyptic after taste; a luxury not enjoyed by our ancient ancestors.
THT the TCA and other reporters had the opportunity to speak with Angela Des Jardins who is Director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium and leader of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, Amir Caspi a Senior Research Scientist at the Southwest Research and James Bullock Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of California at Irvine.
Angela Des Jardins offered a culinary comparison to explain the improbable miracle of a total eclipse
ANGELA DES JARDINS: “An analogy I like to share is a thin crust pizza analogy. So if you think about a large, thin crust pizza and a small ground of sausage in the middle, that small ground of sausage would be the Earth, and at the edge of that pizza crust would be where the moon is orbiting. And the moon would be the size of a small red pepper flake. And then, at that scale, the sun would be the size of a beach ball three football fields away. So in order for a total solar eclipse to happen, you have to have that beach ball sun three football fields away line up with that red pepper flake and cast a shadow on my ground of sausage. And so it’s just an amazing, amazing coincidence
Amir Caspi explained why the main focus of his research is the solar corona
AMIR CASPI: “There’s a lot of interesting physics that happens in solar corona, and what we are particularly interested in for our project is two things: One is what makes the corona so hot. The corona is millions of degrees, whereas people know that the surface of the sun, the visible surface that we can see, which we call the photosphere, is typically a few thousand degrees, and there’s energy getting into the corona to make it hot. What we are trying to figure out is what is the source of that energy? How is that energy being transferred?”
Angela Des Jardins explained why this event is so rare
ANGELA DES JARDINS: “ So there’s a couple of things that are interesting about this. Sure there is, on average, about every 18 months, a total solar eclipse everywhere in the world. Right. But just given the fact that the world is mostly water, it’s a little bit rare for an eclipse to be crossing an entire continent. And our particular country, it’s of interest because we haven’t had one in the contiguous U.S. since 1979. So think about the difference in technology then. The way we communicated then was purely by newspaper and TV, and at that time, the consensus was, “Oh, it’s dangerous.” So they told people to close their blinds and stay inside and watch it on TV. That’s how you were supposed to do it. So it’s a completely different message for the folks in the U.S. this time. And because it’s in the U.S., we have just a lot of, you know, technology and media and social media. I mean, it’s going to be the most observed eclipse ever because it crosses such a wide path of land and because we do a lot of media interaction.”