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Eclipse Science: Harnessing Sensors for Phenomenal Measurements

Join PASCO for an illuminating webinar where we delve into the captivating world of solar eclipses and the innovative use of sensors to capture crucial data during these celestial events. Discover how light, temperature, and weather sensors can unlock a deeper understanding of eclipses and their impact on the environment.

In this interactive session, you’ll learn practical techniques for using sensors and software to measure changes in light intensity, temperature fluctuations, and atmospheric conditions before, during, and after an eclipse. We have measured many eclipses, and in this webinar we will share our tips and tricks so that you and your students can get the best measurements and spark discussion around this amazing phenomenon.

This webinar offers valuable knowledge and hands-on experience in using sensor technology for real-time eclipse measurements.

Featured Products:

  • Wireless Temperature Sensor
    • The Wireless Temperature Sensor is a general-purpose sensor found in many science labs. With a rugged, waterproof design and a long-lasting battery, students can spend more time collecting data and less time dealing with equipment.
  • Wireless Weather Sensor with GPS
    • This sensor is packed with 19 different measurements, including GPS, that can be monitored live or collected over the long term.

Lessons Learned from the Great American Eclipse

Eclipses aren’t only awe-inspiring to witness, they’re also an excellent opportunity for science! Find out what scientists (and PASCO!) learned from the 2017 eclipse, and mark your calendar for the upcoming solar eclipses!

What was the Great American Eclipse?

The Great American Eclipse was a total solar eclipse that occurred on August 21, 2017, and was visible across the United States. It was the first total solar eclipse visible from coast to coast in the US in almost a century. The path of totality, where the Moon completely blocked the Sun, passed through 14 states, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. At its maximum point, viewers on Earth could experience the eclipse for around 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

The eclipse generated significant public interest, with millions of people traveling to witness the event and many others tuning in to live broadcasts. It also provided a special opportunity for scientists to study the Sun and its effects on Earth.

A Unique Opportunity for Scientific Discovery

The Great American Eclipse led to several scientific discoveries, many of which were only made possible by the unique conditions an eclipse creates. During a total solar eclipse, the Moon completely blocks the Sun’s light, allowing scientists to gather data about the Sun’s shape, structure, and its relationship with other phenomena, like solar wind. Researchers use a combination of tools to collect eclipse data, including ground-based and airborne instruments, as well as satellites that provide data about the Sun’s corona, magnetic field, and its impact on the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere.

What Did Scientists Learn from the 2017 Solar Eclipse?

Some of the most significant observations made during the Great American Eclipse regard the corona, the outermost part of the Sun that’s usually too dim to see.

For years, scientists had been puzzled by the fact that the corona is far hotter than the surface of the Sun. During the Great American Eclipse, researchers were finally able to determine just how hot the corona actually is. By measuring the temperature of the corona more accurately, scientists found that it was about one million degrees Celsius (1.7 million degrees Fahrenheit), which is much hotter than the Sun’s surface temperature of around 5,500 degrees Celsius (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit).

But that wasn’t all scientists observed. Researchers also studied the magnetic field of the corona and found it to be much more complex than previously thought. Just like Earth, the Sun has a magnetic field with north and south poles. They also discovered evidence of “coronal loops,” which are giant arcs of plasma that are trapped in the corona’s magnetic field.

The Great American Eclipse provided a rare opportunity for scientists to study the Sun’s corona in ways that are not possible under ordinary conditions. The next opportunity for such studies isn’t until October 14, 2023, when the Great North American Eclipse crosses our skies.

Weather Changes During the Great American Eclipse

Because the Moon’s shadow cools Earth during a solar eclipse, several atmospheric changes occur following the drop in temperature. The 2017 total solar eclipse produced some noticeable weather effects in areas located in the path of totality, particularly in the moments leading up to and during the period of totality.

While the amount of cooling varied depending on the location and the weather conditions at the time, some areas experienced a temperature drop of 6.6ºC! In addition to the reduced temperature, the Great American Eclipse also affected wind patterns. As the air temperature cooled, the density of the air changed, which in turn affected the way that air flowed around the area. This created a brief period of stillness and calm in some areas, as the usual winds died down.


Tracking Eclipse Weather Changes With PASCO Wireless Sensors

At PASCO, we made some observations of our own during the Great American Eclipse! Here in Northern California, we only experienced a partial eclipse, but the weather changes did not disappoint! Using a Wireless Weather Sensor with GPS, we measured and compared the relationship between Temperature (ºC) and Light Intensity (lux) over the duration of the eclipse. Check out our results below!

As the Moon covered the Sun, there was a sudden drop in light intensity, which was shortly followed by a reduction in temperature. Though we only experienced a partial eclipse, we still observed a drop in temperature of 2.37ºC!

Looking for ways to study the next eclipse with your students? Head over to our eclipse page to learn how to conduct this experiment for yourself!

Eclipses and Animal Behavior

A solar eclipse catches the attention of people for its beauty and awe, but we might not be the only ones who notice. Many animals also recognize a change in their environment. As the sky darkens and the temperature drops, some species behave peculiarly.

Keeping Your Pet Safe

Worried that your pet will get scared during the eclipse?

It is unlikely that dogs and cats will react to solar eclipses, as they typically do not have a strong biological or behavioral response to changes in light or natural phenomena like eclipses.

However, it is possible that some dogs or cats may become confused or disoriented by the sudden change in light, especially if they are outside during the eclipse. Also, excited crowds can cause anxiety for some pets, so be careful about bringing your furry friend along if you decide to view the solar eclipse from a public place.

To ensure your pet’s safety and comfort during an eclipse, it is generally best to keep them indoors or in a calm, secure environment. You may also want to consider providing your pet with distractions such as toys or treats to keep them occupied and help them feel at ease.

Visit our eclipse page for information on when and where to view upcoming solar eclipses!

Wildlife Reactions to a Solar Eclipse

Wild animals tend to have more overt responses to eclipses than our domestic companions. Some animals may become disoriented or confused by the sudden change in light, while others may simply adjust their activities to the altered conditions.

For example, some birds may stop singing during an eclipse, return to their nests, or stop flying. Researchers reason this is likely because they perceive the darkness as a signal that it is time to roost for the night. Animals that usually start stirring at sunset like frogs and crickets may start to chirp. Some spiders may take down their webs, only to rebuild them again when the sunlight returns. Nocturnal animals such as bats and owls may become active during the eclipse, while diurnal animals such as squirrels and deer might be more active just before and after the eclipse.

In some cases, animals may exhibit unusual or even erratic behavior during an eclipse. For example, researchers have observed ants and bees behaving as if it is nighttime during a total solar eclipse, even though it is still light enough to see. One study during the 1984 eclipse watched as chimpanzees at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center climbed up their enclosure as high as they could and turned to face the sky.

In a study conducted during the 2017 eclipse at the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina, researchers found that 76% of the animals they observed exhibited a behavioral change in response to the total eclipse. Most of these behaviors were typical of the animal’s evening routine.

Some of the behaviors, however, indicated some level of anxiety for the animal. For instance, a head male gorilla charged his glass enclosure, and one male giraffe proceeded to sway his entire body, including his neck, back and forth. Strangely, all the baboons ran around their pen together as totality approached, despite having just been in two separate groups. Once totality passed, they stopped running and returned to their previous arrangement. Flamingos also behaved out of character, huddling together on an island in the center of their enclosure and remaining still. As totality waned, the flock dispersed to their usual groups.

The response of animals to solar eclipses is complex and varies depending on a variety of factors, including the species, their natural behaviors, and the specifics of the eclipse itself. So, while enjoying the wonder of a solar eclipse, take note of any animals around you–you might spot some interesting behaviors!

Want to measure light and temperature during an upcoming eclipse for yourself? Check out our collection of free eclipse activities, or learn how to build your own pinhole projector with our DIY Eclipse Handbook.

Order PASCO Eclipse Glasses HERE!

History of Solar Eclipses

Solar eclipses have fascinated humans for thousands of years, and many ancient cultures have developed their own myths and legends to explain these rare astronomical events.


Early Explanations

One of the earliest known records of a solar eclipse comes from the ancient Chinese, who recorded an eclipse in 2136 BCE. They believed that a dragon was devouring the Sun, and civilians would make loud noises and bang on pots and pans to scare it away.

In ancient Greece, the philosopher Anaxagoras correctly predicted a solar eclipse in 478 BCE. He was the first to suggest that the Moon shines by reflecting light from the Sun, and he was imprisoned for this proposal. His research led to his discovery that eclipses are caused by the Moon blocking the Sun’s light when it passes in front of it. However, his scientific explanation for the phenomenon was not widely accepted until centuries later.

Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, later refined this theory, explaining that the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Moon’s orbit was slightly tilted relative to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This meant that eclipses occurred when the Moon passed directly between the Sun and Earth, casting a shadow on the planet.

The ancient Maya of Central America were also skilled astronomers and recorded solar eclipses in their calendars. They believed that the eclipses were a sign of impending doom, so they would perform elaborate rituals to appease the gods.

In the Middle Ages, Islamic astronomers developed more accurate models of the movements of the Sun, Moon, and planets. The Persian astronomer Al-Battani, for example, refined the earlier Greek models, proposing that the Moon’s orbit around the Earth was elliptical rather than circular.

By the time of the Renaissance, scientists had developed even more sophisticated theories to explain eclipses, incorporating ideas such as the rotation of the Earth and the elliptical orbits of the planets.

Today, astronomers have a detailed understanding of the mechanics of eclipses, and are able to predict the exact timing and location of these rare astronomical events with great precision. Solar eclipses are still a source of wonder and fascination, and astronomers and scientists continue to study them to gain a better understanding of our universe.


Famous Eclipses

Eclipses that make it to the status of “famous” are generally those that have led to scientific discovery. Some, though, were noted for the sheer number of people who witnessed them.

One of the first recorded eclipses was the Thales of Miletus Eclipse in 585 BCE. The ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus correctly predicted the solar eclipse would occur during a battle between the Lydians and the Medes; however, historians debate the exact year the eclipse occurred, and Thales’ method to predict the event remains uncertain. Regardless, upon observing the phenomenon in the sky, soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and called a truce to end the war.

In 1715, the famous astronomer Edmund Halley (of Halley’s comet) correctly calculated the event of a solar eclipse within four minutes over England. Halley used Isaac Newton’s newfound theory on gravitation for his prediction, and he’s credited with funding the publication of Newton’s work in the Principia.

The Total Solar Eclipse of 1919 is famous for providing the first experimental evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity; Einstein predicted that some stars would appear in a different position in the sky during the eclipse due to the Sun’s gravity bending the starlight. Astronomers observed this shift in position to be accurate, and Einstein published his complete theory soon after.

The Solar Eclipse of August 11, 1999 was the first visible total solar eclipse in the United Kingdom since 1927, and the first visible in Europe in nearly ten years. It was one of the most photographed eclipses in history, viewable to over 350 million people.

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was a total solar eclipse that was visible–at least partially–across the entire United States. Millions of people watched, as it was the first total solar eclipse to span the United States since 1918.

Solar Eclipse Activities & Resources

Want to conduct your own experiments during this year’s solar eclipse? Give your students the science experience of a lifetime with these free solar eclipse activities. These free activities can be performed with students of all ages and include step-by-step instructions, analysis questions, and preformatted software files for students.

Light and Temp Study

Solar Eclipse Light and Temperature Study

In this lab, students become junior eclipse scientists as they use Wireless Light and Temperature Sensors to track how light and temperature change during a solar eclipse.

Weather Study

Weird Weather: Solar Eclipse Weather Study

Strange things happen during a solar eclipse! This lab lets students uncover local changes in weather conditions using a Wireless Weather Sensor with GPS.

UV Light Study

Why Do We Wear Eclipse Glasses? A Study with UV Beads

In this sensor-free activity, students use UV beads to compare the effectiveness of sunglasses and eclipse glasses in blocking UV light.

Protect Your Eyes with PASCO Eclipse Glasses!

PASCO Glasses

Safety is essential when witnessing any solar eclipse.
Ensure your students are protected with our certified eclipse glasses!

Simple DIY Pinhole Projector

Looking for ways to safely view the upcoming solar eclipse? Why not build your own pinhole projector? With just a few household supplies and some simple instructions, these DIY eclipse projects provide a great way for students to engage in eclipse science. Check out the DIY guide below, and visit PASCO’s eclipse page to learn more about the upcoming eclipses!


  • Two large white cards (cardstock, poster board, or even paper plates will do!)
  • Pushpin (or something to poke a small hole through the paper)
  • Sunshine!



  1. Using the pushpin, poke a small hole in the center of one of the cards. Make sure the hole is circular.
  2. Facing away from the sun, hold the card up near your shoulder so sunlight can pass through the pinhole.
    Hold or mount the second card closer to the ground so it’s aligned with the punctured card. You should be able to see a small circle of light projected onto the second card.

This is an inverted image of the Sun! During a solar eclipse, the shape of light on the card will be crescent-shaped as the moon passes in front of the Sun.

Pinhole Projector Box


  • Cardboard box (a shoebox or larger is a good size)
  • White piece of printer paper
  • Duct tape
  • Box cutter
  • Aluminum foil (3”x3” square)
  • Pushpin (or something to poke a small hole through the paper)
  • Sunshine!


  1. Using the box cutters, cut out a square in the center of one of the sides of your cardboard box. If you have a rectangular box like a shoebox, cut out the square on one of the shorter sides. The square should be about 2”x2” in size.
  2. Tape the printer paper inside of the box on the opposite side from the square cutout. (You should be able to look through the cutout and see the paper.) The paper will act as the “screen.”
  3. Tape the aluminum foil completely over the square cutout.
  4. Use the pushpin to puncture a small hole in the center of the aluminum foil.
  5. Cut out a large hole in the bottom of the box. This will be the peek-hole where you look into the box to view the projection. If you have a large box, you can cut the hole large enough to fit your head through. Try to limit excess light from entering the box so the projection of light through the pinhole isn’t obstructed.

Now it’s time to test your projector! Find a sunny spot outside and hold your box up to the sun so light can enter the pinhole. When you look through the peek-hole, you should see a circle of light on the paper. This is a projection of the Sun! The longer your box is, the larger the projection will appear on the paper. During a solar eclipse, the projection will resemble a crescent as the moon passes in front of the Sun.

Why does the image through a pinhole appear inverted?

Viewing an eclipse through a pinhole projector creates an upside-down image due to a phenomenon known as the camera obscura effect. A pinhole projector works by allowing light from the Sun to pass through a small hole and project an inverted image of the Sun on a surface, such as a piece of paper, located opposite to the hole.

The camera obscura effect occurs because light travels in straight lines and the pinhole only allows a small amount of light to pass through it. As a result, the rays of light that pass through the top of the pinhole will be projected on the bottom of the screen and vice versa, causing the image to be inverted. This is the same principle that applies to the images formed by a camera lens or our eyes, which also produce inverted images on our retina before our brain processes them and flips them right-side up.

Eclipse Safety

It is never safe to look directly at the Sun. Looking directly at the Sun during a solar eclipse–or ever–is very dangerous, and can cause permanent eye damage or blindness. To protect your vision, specialized solar viewing glasses or indirect viewing methods should always be used to observe a solar eclipse.

If you plan to view a solar eclipse using specialized glasses, be sure to check that they’re legitimate. Solar eclipse glasses should be thoroughly inspected and meet specific safety requirements for certification.

Protect Your Eyes with PASCO Eclipse Glasses!

PASCO Glasses

Safety is essential when witnessing any solar eclipse.
Ensure your students are protected with our certified eclipse glasses!


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