Eclipse chaser Science in the Moon's shadow

Ilima Loomis

Book - 2019

"The August 2017 solar eclipse is the chance of a lifetime for astronomer Shadia Habbal--years of planning come down to one moment of totality. Will everything go off as planned?"--

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Informational works
Illustrated works
Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [2019]
Main Author
Ilima Loomis (author)
Other Authors
Amanda (Photographer) Cowan (photographer)
Physical Description
79 pages : color illustrations, color maps ; 24 x 29 cm
Ages 10-12.
Grades 4 to 6.
Includes bibliographical references (page 76) and index.
  • Introduction: Moment of truth
  • America's eclipse
  • Mitchell
  • Breakthrough
  • Countdown
  • Totality.
Review by Booklist Review

This latest entry in the much-honored Scientists in the Field series invites readers to follow solar physicist Shadia Habbal and her team of observers studying the sun's coronal atmosphere during solar eclipses. As said eclipses only occur once every 18 months or so for only a few minutes, each observation requires an unusual mix of long-range planning, travel to generally remote locales, and very careful setup of complex equipment for moments of frantic action all of which can easily go for naught. With particular reference to the Great American Eclipse of August 2017 but also mentions of earlier ones, Loomis describes the team's labors in a suspenseful way and explains, in simple language, resulting discoveries. Cowan adds big, bright photos of casually clad researchers at work, as well as dramatic shots of the solar corona itself. A world map showing the paths of near-future eclipses should be of great interest to young sky watchers particularly in the wake of Habbal's reminder that total eclipses are the one time viewers can look at the sun with naked eyes.--John Peters Copyright 2020 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A journalist and photojournalist team up to follow a group of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who travel around the world to observe the sun's corona in the fleeting moments of a total eclipse.This entry in the long-running series follows solar physicist Shadia Habbal as she leads her team of "Solar Wind Sherpas" to observe the "Great American Eclipse" of 2017. Loomis begins by recounting two earlier attempts, a failure and a success. Then she introduces both the Syrian American scientist and the astronomical phenomenon and sets the stage in Mitchell, Oregon, in 2017. Backtracking, she describes an earlier scientific breakthrough in Libya in 2006, where the team observed some previously unexpected aspects of the sun's corona. The last two chapters focus on the nervous hours before the actual eclipse and then the relief when, after a few minutes of totality, when the world has gone dark and their computer-activated cameras have done their jobs, they find they have good images to study until the next opportunity to view the eclipsed sun. The author's clear explanations help readers understand what this scientific team is looking for and why they choose to do it this way. Interspersed breakout sections, diagrams, and maps add helpful information, including descriptions of two other observation sites. Large, clear photographs show Habbal and her diverse (but mostly white) team at work, their equipment, and the sun in various stages. Stellar science teamwork in an unusual spotlight. (glossary, selected sources, photo credits, acknowledgments, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER 1 America's Eclipse TWO MINUTES AND THREE SECONDS. That's how long Shadia would get to study what people were calling the Great American Eclipse.       On August 21, 2017, a total eclipse of the sun would cut across the United States from coast to coast for the first time in ninety-nine years. Every eclipse is remarkable, but what would make this one special was how many people would be able to see it. Even though total eclipses occur fairly often--about seventy-five times each century--much of the time, the moon's shadow passes over remote or unpopulated areas where no one is around to see it. An eclipse might pass over a desert, or across the open ocean. But this one would cross thirteen states, from Oregon to South Carolina. Some twelve million people lived directly in its path. Half of the country was within a day's drive. "For so many people to be so close to the path of totality is very rare," Shadia says. It was possible more people would see this eclipse than any other in history.       For six years, Shadia had been helping the country get ready. She and other scientists and educators met with local governments, police and fire departments, state and national parks, private companies, and schools. They wanted people to be excited about the eclipse, but also prepared. They knew that millions of people would travel to see it. Many of them would want to be in rural areas and small towns. If these communities didn't plan ahead, they might be overwhelmed by tourists. They would need to find space for extra campgrounds, plan for traffic jams, and rent lots of portable toilets!       Shadia also talked to people about how to watch the eclipse. She wanted people to know how to protect their eyes and enjoy the eclipse safely, but she also wanted them to really see it. The partial phase of an eclipse can hurt your eyes if you look at it directly, but it's safe to look at the sun during totality--in fact, that's the only way to see it. "My concern is that people won't remove their glasses during totality," Shadia says. "I tell them, if you can't see anything anymore through the glasses, then you should remove the glasses and look at the corona."       Shadia was eager for people to see the corona; she thinks it's one of the most beautiful and amazing sights in nature. She also hoped that watching the eclipse would get more people interested in science. An eclipse is a chance for people to observe the actual movement of the solar system, and to think about the forces that cause that movement, like gravity.       An eclipse is also a chance for people to see the sun in a new way, and learn about how it works and how it affects our planet. Many people may not even realize that stars have an atmosphere, but during an eclipse they can see the sun's atmosphere with their own eyes. What is that atmosphere made of? What gives it its shape and structure? What happens to that atmosphere as it streams out into space? As a scientist, Shadia felt a responsibility to share what she had learned with other people. As she traveled around the country, she gave talks at schools and universities about her work and spoke to many journalists about the upcoming eclipse.       Shadia had loved science since she was a girl. The oldest of four sisters, she was born in Damascus, Syria. Syria has been devastated by a civil war that began in 2011. But when Shadia was growing up, it was a peaceful, progressive country, where education was valued. Her parents, both teachers, sent her to a missionary school, where she learned French and English, in addition to the Arabic she spoke at home.       It was her science teacher, Sister Bernard-Dominique, who introduced her to physics. Shadia liked how Sister Bernard-Dominique would come up with amusing stories and problems to solve, like asking her to calculate how much someone would weigh on the moon. For Shadia, it was like a light had turned on inside of her. A force like gravity did more than make your pencil fall off your desk. It moved planets, stars, and whole galaxies. By understanding the rules of physics, Shadia realized, you could understand how the whole universe worked.       Shadia's hero was Marie Curie, who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity through her experiments. "I found her life story fascinating," Shadia says. "She had the drive and the smarts and the imagination to carry out her experiments and make all these discoveries, and she also had to fight prejudices."       Her parents thought she might become a doctor, but Shadia had other plans. She wanted to become a physicist. She graduated from the University of Damascus, went on to study at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, and then came to the United States to get her PhD in physics.       Now Shadia hoped this eclipse might inspire a new generation of physicists and astronomers. But she couldn't spend all her time talking about it. She had her own expedition to plan. And because this eclipse was so close to home, she wanted to put together a big team and bring as many telescopes, cameras, and observing instruments as she could. In the end, she was able to get more than twenty-five scientists and engineers from a dozen universities, observatories, private companies, and other institutions to help her make her observations. She spread them out at several different sites dotted along a one-thousand-mile (1,600 km) stretch of the eclipse's path.       Spreading out her team would increase the likelihood that at least some of her sites would have good weather. It would also mean that she could observe the corona over time. "You can follow dynamic changes in the corona when you're spread out," Shadia says. "At each site it's only two minutes and a few seconds, but if you put the pictures together from five or six sites, you can say, 'Look, the features changed from this to this to this.'"       Shadia began researching locations, contacting local chambers of commerce and community groups for help and advice. A year before the eclipse, she flew to meet Judd Johnson, an engineer in Boulder, Colorado, one of her closest and longest collaborators, for a scouting trip. Together they drove west from Nebraska, stopping to check out sites along the way. They were looking for places far away from city lights, with a dry climate and a clear view of the sky. The sites also had to be able to accommodate her team with housing, water, and electricity.       In the end, they found five sites that seemed perfect: Mitchell, Oregon; Mackay, Idaho; Whiskey Mountain and Guernsey State Park in Wyoming; and Alliance, Nebraska. Shadia started making the arrangements, but she kept her plans private--she didn't want any competing eclipse teams showing up at her designated spot.       Organizing such a big expedition was stressful. Besides planning her own scientific research and applying for funding, Shadia had to think about things like providing food, transportation, and housing for all those people. She had to assign groups, pick team leaders, and make sure everybody could work well together and get along.       Teamwork is essential when working on an eclipse. "There is a critical time issue," Shadia says. "It requires discipline on the part of everyone. If someone decides they want to do something their own way, it doesn't work. We all have to be ready and work together at the same time."       Fortunately, Shadia already had a team she could count on. She calls them the "Solar Wind Sherpas." That's because, like the Sherpa people of Nepal, who are famous for carrying heavy loads on long mountain treks, this group lugs their heavy telescopes and scientific equipment around the world. These scientists and engineers have chased eclipses with Shadia from the South Pacific to the Arctic Circle, and from Mongolia to the Middle East. They've shivered through blizzards together, gotten lost together, and eaten strange foods together. They've been with Shadia for her bitterest failures and her most exciting discoveries.       She knew they wouldn't let her down now. Excerpted from Eclipse Chaser: Science in the Moon's Shadow by Ilima Loomis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.