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I’m writing this Editor’s Note a little over a week after the total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. 

Upon reflection, it was amazing. The eclipse itself was “meh” from my northeast vantage point. But what I found truly remarkable was how all Americans bonded over a single event that day—a science-based one, no less. 

In an America that seems as divided as ever, the relatively simple act of the moon passing in front of the sun brought us together—at least for an afternoon. 

How great is that?
 

Michelle Taylor
Editor-in-Chief

According to NASA, approximately 4.4 million people watched the space agency’s live stream of the eclipse, and that’s in addition to the millions of people around the country who gathered in streets, at parks, at schools, to watch the phenomenon together. 

At our office building in Rockaway, N.J., about 50 people gathered outside to watch the sky. And those that had eclipse-protecting glasses (including Managing Editor Lauren Scrudato and Senior Science Writer Seth Augenstein) were all too happy to share with those who didn’t. Lauren and Seth even shared their glasses with strangers from different companies in the building. Everyone was just happy

What struck me while I was outside waiting for totality was the inventive ways some people thought to protect their eyes from the power of the eclipse. In addition to NASA-certified glasses, there were a lot of cereal box projectors and a pair of binoculars. There was also a group of people who used a plastic, gray-tinted letter holder as a projection device—innovative, right? It helped that the building we reside in is completely glass, so anyone could see the reflection of the eclipse on the 7-story structure. 

While the eclipse was historic in its totality path and longevity, it was also historic for those who turned it into a science experiment. 

For example, the National Science Foundation’s Citizen CATE experiment recruited hundreds of scientists, students and volunteers to track the sun along the path of totality with identical telescopes, software and instrument packages. Collectively, the 68 sites produced more than 4,000 images. The resulting dataset will consist of an unprecedented 90 minutes of continuous, high-resolution and rapid-cadence images detailing the Sun’s inner corona, a region of the solar atmosphere typically very challenging to image.

Montana State University, in partnership with NASA, led the Eclipse Ballooning Project, which saw teams from 25 locations in the total eclipse path launch high-altitude balloons for a variety of science experiments. In addition to experiments centered around the Sun’s corona, the Montana team actually launched a balloon with standard live video equipment—enabling them to livestream the eclipse to NASA’s website. 

Other balloons recorded changes in atmospheric conditions, such as temperature, wind speed, pressure and humidity. Another set of 34 balloons carried small aluminum cards coated with the bacteria Paenibacillus xerothermodurans. NASA hopes the experiment will help it learn more about how life can survive outside Earth, possibly on planets such as Mars.

The Nashville Zoo encouraged guests to come about an hour and a half before totality to record animal behaviors in an effort to see if animals behave differently during a total solar eclipse. While the zoo is still sifting through all its newfound data, it did publish preliminary observations late last week. 

The giraffes appeared most affected. The zoo reports they were visibly nervous leading up to and during totality. When the light returned, the giraffes were seen galloping around the exhibit for several minutes. The lemurs were resting before the eclipse, but started pacing once the sky got darker, similar to what they do at closing time. Once the sun returned, the zoo reports the lemurs went back to resting. 

Now, if you’re a bit older, you’re probably wondering why I got so excited about a total solar eclipse when there have been other—more important—space-related events in semi-recent history. Well, that may be true, but my generation (born in the 80s) and those younger did not get to experience the space race of the 60s like so many others. From what I’ve read, it sounded awesome. I’ve actually romanticized it in my head. I can just picture happy American families huddled around the (probably) only television set in the house, watching a man land on the moon—live—for the first time ever in arguably the biggest television event of the 20th century. 

I would relish the opportunity to experience that.

Given the impact the total solar eclipse had on our nation for just one day, another race to the moon could be just what the doctor ordered.

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