A total solar eclipse is probably the most spectacular astronomical event that most people will experience in their lives. There is a great deal of interest in watching eclipses, and thousands of astronomers (both amateur and professional) travel around the world to observe and photograph them.
A solar eclipse offers students a unique opportunity to see a natural phenomenon that illustrates the basic principles of mathematics and science that are taught through elementary and secondary school. Indeed, many scientists (including astronomers!) have been inspired to study science as a result of seeing a total solar eclipse. Teachers can use eclipses to show how the laws of motion and the mathematics of orbital motion can predict the occurrence of eclipses. The use of pinhole cameras and telescopes or binoculars to observe an eclipse leads to an understanding of the optics of these devices. The rise and fall of environmental light levels during an eclipse illustrate the principles of radiometry and photometry, while biology classes can observe the associated behavior of plants and animals. It is also an opportunity for children of school age to contribute actively to scientific research – observations of contact timings at different locations along the eclipse path are useful in refining our knowledge of the orbital motions of the Moon and earth, and sketches and photographs of the solar corona can be used to build a three-dimensional picture of the Sun’s extended atmosphere during the eclipse.