5 fascinating scientific discoveries made during solar eclipses

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Total solar eclipses are more than just awe-inspiring magical moments— important scientific discoveries have been made during and because of total solar eclipses.

Since the sun is roughly 400 times larger than the moon and also roughly 400 times farther away than the moon, every once in awhile they line up perfectly, with the moon blocking out the sun completely, except for the corona of the sun. Normally, we can’t see the corona of the sun because the light from the sun is too bright, but with the moon blocking that light, we have a unique opportunity to observe the corona.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Scientists Pierre Jansen and Norman Lockyer were studying the corona during an eclipse in August 1868 and discovered a chemical element and named it Helium, after the Greek word for the sun.

In May of 1919, Arthur Eddington and Frank Dyson used the eclipse to observe a bent path of starlight and used the observations to experiment with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

A 2016 study found that all types of solar eclipses can change the wind direction, attributed mostly to the change in temperatures.

In 1932 during an August eclipse, several scientists observed animal behavior during the eclipse, finding that animals may be temporarily tricked into thinking it is nighttime and began their nighttime behaviors, such as crickets chirping, birds falling silent, and bees returning to their hives.

NASA is asking for public participation during this eclipse to build on that study with the Eclipse Soundscapes Project. They have several levels of participation from Apprentice to Observer to Data Collector. Their website recruits people to help with the observations, saying “We need your help! Eclipse Soundscapes is collecting your multi-sensory observations and recorded sound data from the October 14, 2023 annular solar eclipse and the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse.  The observations and sound data collected will help us understand the impact of 2023, and 2024 solar eclipses on various U.S. ecosystems.”

If you sign up to be a data collector, you will assemble a kit, which includes a device to capture the audio during the eclipse that you will then submit back to Eclipse Soundscapes for compilation and analysis.

Eclipse Soundscapes observation kit,
Eclipse Soundscapes observation kit,

More recently, during the August 2017 eclipse, NASA asked photographers in the path of totality to share their images they captured of the eclipse to study the corona of the sun. They called the project the Eclipse Megamovie and they compiled tens of thousands of images and videos of the sun’s corona. From this they were able to identify a plasma plume from the sun.

They have relaunched the project for 2024 with a focus on solar jets and plasma plumes.

“Many jets and plumes seem to disappear or change from the time they are formed on the Sun and when they move out into the solar wind. To learn more about these solar phenomena, we will use photographs taken by volunteers to identify solar jets as they leave the Sun’s surface and solar plumes as they grow and develop.”

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