Q: Brian, it's been a while since we caught up. I wanted to talk about the upcoming solar eclipse, but before we do, can you bring us up to speed about what you've been up to?
It has been a long time! I currently teach Space Science and Engineering (or just robotics for short) at Shasta High School. It’s a great class where I get to teach high school kids from around the district (Enterprise and Foothill students are bussed over) as much as I can about robots, space science and career ready skills for working in an engineering environment. I have been working closely with the faculty at Shasta College and engineers from the community to make sure that what I am teaching is what the students should be learning to be ready for the next level and be ready for future careers.
I also have a team of students that are building a real satellite that will launch in spring of 2018! We call it “Project KnightWolf”. It is a partnership between Shasta College (hence the Knight part) and Shasta High School (that is where the Wolf comes in), where my students at Shasta High are building a microsatellite (called a TubeSat) that will launch from a facility in the south Pacific. The satellite will achieve low Earth orbit (around 190 miles above the Earth) and orbit for 2-3 months if all goes well. We have several teams that are working on the project: Communications (students are being trained how to look for the satellite and download the information), Education/Public Outreach, Electronics (students that are building the main satellite) and Structure (students build a mock-up of the satellite). We hope to be able to download magnetic data and temperature data from the orbit and work with scientists to help understand the conditions at those altitudes.
I also have been involved in getting more schools involved in robotics in our region (anywhere north of Sacramento), so students can have opportunities to learn hands on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I have been training schools and teachers on how to start robotics clubs and programs at their own schools and last year I hosted (with the support from Shasta College) a VEX robotics competition at Shasta High School called “Battle of the North”. Several north state schools around the region attended the competition … it was a great success! We will be doing it again this year on Nov 11th, 2017 at Shasta high.
I also recently gave a talk about the New Horizons mission that visited Pluto in 2015 at Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Dark Sky Festival to update the public on what the next targets are for the spacecraft as it speeds out of the solar system into the Kuiper Belt. Being a part of the outreach for such a historic mission is incredible! It’s an amazing time to study space!
Q: As usual, you're a busy guy, which is why I'm extra glad we caught up with you.
It doesn’t seem like I am busy … I just love what I do! I’m passionate about teaching and learning, so any opportunity I can get to do both, I always jump all the way in!
Q: Monday, Aug. 21 is a total eclipse, and many people are extra excited about it. What makes this eclipse especially significant?
The last time we were able to see a total solar eclipse from the United States was 1979, and it wont be until 2024 that we get to see one again from the US. This eclipse is also within driving distance for anyone that lives in the contiguous United States!
Q: So a lot of people can see this eclipse, but where are the best viewing spots, assuming there's no cloud cover?
Anywhere that you have a clear view of the horizon is great. You can actually see the shadow moving toward you as it grows darker and darker, and the temperature even drops by several degrees during totality. During summer, that is always a welcomed treat! NASA has put together a website that discusses the specifics about the eclipse as well, and even shows a map where you can view totality (the area of the eclipse where the sun is completely blocked out by the moon) found here. In the unlucky event that you are unable to view the eclipse outside, NASA is planning to live stream the eclipse so you can still be a part of it!
Q: How will the view be here in the north state?
According to calculations we will see about 86% of the sun obscured by the moon. For more detailed information, you can also click on an interactive map to show even more details about it where you live.
Q: I've never understood why looking at an eclipse is any more dangerous than just glancing at the sun.
Safe viewing is a priority! You can cause permanent damage to your eyesight if you do not use precautions when viewing the eclipse. Never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. People mistakenly think that if the sun is mostly covered that it is safe to view but it’s not. Only used approved solar safety glasses, or someone with an approved solar filter on a telescope to view anything about the sun. Even an eclipse. You can even use a pinhole viewer (simply put, a piece of paper with a hole poked in it) to show the eclipse onto the ground, or even simply look at the patterns created on the ground by the sun shining through the leaves on the tree.
Q: So it's true that someone could actually lose their sight by looking at an eclipse? What about animals, or people who don't get the memo?
Yes! It's very true! There are stories out there of people that have permanently damaged their sight or even gone blind from viewing an eclipse without proper equipment. Animals don’t care about eclipses. They just think it's time for bed and start their night time rituals accordingly. Other than the fact that people should never look at the sun without proper equipment, I would hope that a person doesn’t need a memo about not looking at the sun.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about people who've bought the wrong eye wear for the eclipse viewing. Is there some official product we should look for, and conversely, some to avoid?
Most places that sell solar viewing glasses are completely sold out. But if people have purchased glasses, it's important that they are also safe. NASA has put together a list of ways to view the eclipse and what to look for in safe solar viewing glasses. AAS (American Astronomical Society) has also put together a list of reputable vendors for solar viewing glasses.
Q: But let's say I didn't get online to get a pair of the special glasses, is there some way I can observe the eclipse, without destroying my eyesight?
Absolutely! You can make a pinhole viewer which allows you to be able to at least project an image onto a surface to view the eclipse.
Q: Scientifically speaking, is there something to be learned from an eclipse?
There is a lot that has been and can be learned from a both a solar and lunar eclipse. What we will witness is a solar eclipse where the moon casts a shadow onto the Earth. Scientists have long used this as an opportunity to study the outer layers of the sun’s atmosphere called the corona, view solar prominences (large eruptions of hot gasses from the surface of the sun), study gravitational effects of the alignment of the sun and moon, study animal behaviors during a rapid darkening of the sky, and even learn more about Einstein’s theory of relativity by studying how light from distant stars is affected by the gravity of the sun!
Q: Will you be watching the eclipse?
Absolutely! The eclipse will occur during the daytime, which for me is during my classes at Shasta High. I really debated about getting a sub, and making the trek to Oregon to see totality for myself! But, I also see that this is an amazing, historical event that students might not get a chance to learn about ever again ... it's the ultimate teachable moment! So, I chose to stay here to watch the eclipse (safely) with my students and use this as an opportunity to teach science as it happens.
Q: Anything else you think we should know, Brian? Thank you!
The eclipse starts around 9am PDT, which is when the moon begins to cover the sun, with maximum coverage (86%) at 10:16am. The eclipse ends at 11:38am. Remember, to always view the eclipse safely using only approved solar viewing glasses or make a pinhole viewer to see the moon cover up part of our home star the sun!