Enjoy the Eclipse with Touch and Sound Through a Special App

Date Posted: 08/13/2017

by Bill Holton, AccessWorld Correspondent

screen shot of rumble map for Eclipse iOS app

Even without vision, it will be possible for you to enjoy the upcoming total eclipse of the sun scheduled for August 21, thanks to the Eclipse Soundscapes Project, a joint project of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium.

Release of Eclipse Soundscapes App


The project has released the iOS Eclipse Soundscapes app, which will offer a narration of the eclipse’s progress aligned with the planetary movements as they occur. They will use your device’s GPS to determine when the show gets started. App users will also be treated to an interactive "rumble map," a series of "touch" photographs that use vibrational feedback to demonstrate the physical qualities of the celestial phenomenon at various stages from start to finish. Touch the screen image, and the app will decipher the greyscale value of that spot and vibrate the screen with a strength relative to the brightness of the section. Trace a finger around the sun, and the smartphone will vibrate more intensely. Slide into the dark region blocked by the moon, and the vibration will diminish and disappear.

"Hearing" is also a great way to experience the eclipse because soundscapes change dramatically as the moon passes between Earth and the sun. Due to the change in light, nocturnal animals stir into action while diurnal animals settle in for what they perceive as falling darkness. Soon, however, as the sun reemerges, it often triggers a "false dawn chorus" of birds and other animals.

Eclipse Soundscapes is working with the National Parks Service, Science Friday, and Brigham Young University to record these soundscapes for later enjoyment and educational opportunities.

The idea for Eclipse Soundscapes came from Dr. Henry "Trae" Winter, a solar astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics 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,” he said. “Science works when everyone participates because the more people who participate, the stronger it becomes. You have to have different vantage points; you have to have new ideas; you have to think about things in different ways. I believe including visually impaired individuals will actually strengthen science.”

Word of Extreme Caution About Viewing the Eclipse

The National Eye Institute has issued guidance about safely viewing the eclipse. “Never look directly at the sun or an eclipse! The sun’s rays can damage the retina and lead to permanent vision loss,” said Rachel Bishop, M.D., chief of the NEI Consult Service. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. A condition called solar retinopathy occurs when sunlight burns and potentially scars the retina. Symptoms of solar retinopathy include central graying and fuzziness of vision. A solar eclipse can be viewed safely by looking through special-purpose solar filters. These filters must meet an international standard, indicated by ISO 12312-2 certification.”

Resources and Tips for Viewing the Solar Eclipse

Check out these links for more information on how you can safely view the upcoming solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Eye Safety

How to View the 2017 Solar Eclipse Safely

Where to Get Solar Eclipse Glasses

How to Tell If Your Eclipse Glasses or Handheld Solar Viewers Are Safe

Ways People Who Are Visually Impaired Can View the Solar Eclipse

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