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Early Citizen Science Results From the Eclipse

August 22, 2017
partial eclipse as seen in Raleigh

The eclipse approaching maximum (about 94%) in Raleigh

If you are like many North Carolinians, you spent part of yesterday afternoon somewhere in NC, SC, TN, or elsewhere watching the eclipse.  The 2017 eclipse captured the imagination and attention of the public like few recent scientific phenomena have!  This year’s eclipse also provided many opportunities for citizen scientists to collect data on a variety of topics and we wanted to share some of the (very) preliminary results from those projects here.

The Eclipse MegaMovie invited people to submit photos of the eclipse anywhere along the path of totality so the team could create a continuous video of the eclipse as it crossed the country.  While they’re still accepting photos and will not have a complete movie ready for another month or two, they’ve posted a preliminary video of the results and expect to update it several more times.  Some local photographers were involved in the project, contributing images from various areas within and near totality.  You can hear about one NC photographer’s experience with the MegaMovie on a news segment on WRAL.

Several locals took part in other citizen science projects, including Globe Observer’s temperature study.  People nationwide used the Globe Observer app to track the temperature before, during, and after the eclipse.  Temperatures can drop quickly and dramatically during an eclipse, so this study had people document just how much it changed across the county.  You can see the preliminary results of the study online now, though more reports and results will be added over the next few weeks.  Dr. De Anna Beasley, formerly a Students Discover postdoctoral researcher at the Museum, shared her results from Tennessee (at right) as an example of how the total eclipse impacted the temperature where she was.

A local project on cicadas wondered if the cicada populations of the mid-Atlantic states would respond to the abnormal darkening of the sky.  Some cicadas sing during the day and some at night.  Would the day singers stop singing during the eclipse and would the night singers begin?  The cicada team hasn’t processed enough of their data yet to make even a preliminary guess, but at least at the Museum’s field station, Prairie Ridge, there did not appear to be much of a difference in the cicada calling during the eclipse.  However, the eclipse was only 94% locally, so it didn’t ever get completely dark, more like a late afternoon as the sun is just starting to set than true darkness.

Dragonfly before eclipse

A Blue Dasher dragonfly looking over his territory about 15 minutes before the maximum eclipse in Raleigh.

Life Responds encouraged users to report their behavioral observations on iNaturalist before, during, and after the eclipse.  I participated in this project and watched the dragonflies on the pond at Prairie Ridge.  Up to about 10 minutes before and after the eclipse, the normal summer dragonfly activity took place.  For the 20 minutes that spanned the maximum eclipse in Raleigh, all but one species disappeared from the pond.  Common Green Darners continued to fly throughout, but became more sluggish and less inclined to chase one another.  Once the sky brightened back up, the species absent during the eclipse reappeared and resumed their usual behaviors like nothing had happened.  Dragonflies are very light dependent, so I suspect that the species that disappeared mistook the eclipse for the approach of night and went to find roosts away from the water.  When the light came back out, they continued their usual daytime behavior.  There are many other interesting natural history observations on the Life Responds project site, so check it out to see how a variety of species reacted to the eclipse nationwide!

These are just a few very preliminary results of eclipse citizen science projects and many more results will come in over the next few weeks to months.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear what YOU observed during the eclipse! What did you see?  How did the eclipse make you feel?  Did you see any strange animal behaviors?  Did you notice a temperature drop?  Please share your eclipse experiences in the comments below!

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