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SF Exploratorium’s New Total Solar Eclipse App

The Exploratorium has just announced the release of its new free Total Solar Eclipse App for iOS as well as an updated version of the app for Android devices. The app, which includes information about the eclipse and safe viewing techniques, allows users to view the eclipse live from their phones and tablets, and share to televisions in HD video. The release of the app is part of the Exploratorium’s large-scale education initiative, supported by NASA, around the coming total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

The Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse app enables users to move seamlessly between the Exploratorium’s five live streams of the eclipse, which include direct telescope feeds from Wyoming and Oregon, English and Spanish programs featuring scientists from the Exploratorium and NASA, and a sonification of the eclipse with a live performance by Kronos Quartet at the Exploratorium’s home on the San Francisco waterfront. Until then, the app acts as a resource for anyone hoping to increase their knowledge of eclipses and ensure they and their communities are prepared to engage in safe viewing techniques when the eclipse arises. Push notifications will alert users whenever new resources become available, and they will serve as reminders during the days leading up to the event. The app is also equipped with a social viewing mode, allowing users to tweet with preloaded hashtags while viewing live streams on mobile devices and tablets or while sharing the live streams to internet-connected TVs.

“The quality and depth of information available on this app is astonishing,” says Robyn Higdon, Director of Museum Experience at the Exploratorium. “It includes a lot of basic astronomical science, but for those who want to go deeper it also provides a chance to spend time exploring past astronomical events and some fascinating principles of physics responsible for the mechanics of an eclipse. I can see this app being used in classrooms as well as in living rooms.”

The Five Live Streams: Technological Advancement, Educational Equity, and the Sweet Music of the Spheres

The five live streams offered through the app will also be available online, and are embeddable:

1) Live coverage hosted by Exploratorium educators and NASA scientists
2) Live coverage in Spanish hosted by Exploratorium educators
3) “233rd Day,” a musical sonification and accompaniment by the Kronos Quartet
4) Silent 3-hour live telescope view of the full eclipse as seen from Madras, Oregon
5) Silent 3-hour live telescope view of the full eclipse as seen from Casper, Wyoming

Homegrown Technology

Scientists at the Exploratorium have been hosting live streams of the eclipse for over a quarter-century, which means they’ve been putting eclipses on the internet in real time since before most of us knew what the term “live stream” meant. A legend persists that one of the Exploratorium’s early scientists, Larry Shaw (also responsible for the existence of the holiday Pi Day), contrived a “live stream” of an eclipse using radio waves in the early nineties. Inevitably, the quality of these streams has improved as technology has increased, allowing the team to capture higher resolution and more dynamic images; last year the Exploratorium worked with engineers to develop a high-dynamic-range camera that processes light in a way that is similar to the human eye, allowing not only for high-resolution, but also for subtle gradations of light to remain visible in high-contrast situations such as a solar Eclipse.

“Typically, photographs you see of a solar eclipse are composites of many shots taken to show different values on the light spectrum,” says M.I.T. physicist and Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium, Dr. Paul Doherty. “It typically takes days to process all the images and layer them on top of one another to arrive at that perfect shot. But last year, one of the engineers working with the Exploratorium developed a camera that allows for this kind of high dynamic range in our live streams. Which means we’re using technology that can’t be bought in stores.”

Spanish Language Eclipse Programming

Not only will this be the first time a total solar eclipse has traveled across an expanse of the U.S. in any of our lifetimes, it will also be the first time the Exploratorium has produced a live stream of an eclipse in Spanish. This year, astrophysicist and Exploratorium Staff Scientist Dr. Isabel Hawkins will host a Spanish-language live stream of the eclipse with Univision news anchor Kira Vilanova. The Spanish-language live stream occurs at the center of an institution-wide initiative at the Exploratorium focused on engaging Hispanic audiences and ensuring equity and diversity in programming. In addition to the live stream, Spanish-language videos about the eclipse, including “¿Que es un eclipse solar?” are available on the app. More will be made available leading up to the eclipse; push notifications will alert users when they go online.

“233rd Day:” Eclipse Sonification and Kronos Quartet

For the 2017 Eclipse, Bay Area composer and Staff Artist at the Exploratorium Wayne Grim will be producing “233rd Day,” a real-time sonification of the eclipse that will be streamed by the Exploratorium as part of a composition with the renowned musical group Kronos Quartet. To create these soundscapes, Grim processes digital information collected from the event and translates that information into an auditory experience. He has produced sonifications of celestial events in the past, including the Transit of Venus in 2012 and the 2016 total solar eclipse recorded in Micronesia. This will be the first time Kronos Quartet has collaborated with the Exploratorium; they will be performing live with Wayne Grim’s sonification at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum on the day of the Eclipse. The Sonification will last a full three hours, with Kronos Quartet’s involvement taking place for a duration of thirty minutes around totality. This auditory collaboration will be made available for live streaming as one of the five streams on the app.

Party Like It’s June 8, 1918

Taken as a whole, this app is the perfect tool for hosting an eclipse party, and an excellent tool for people who cannot travel to the path of totality. Users can study up before the eclipse, find out how to build their own eclipse viewers, and use the interactive map to find out what percentage of the eclipse will be visible to them at their location. And right now, it’s the only app on the Apple App Store and on Google Play that will offer telescopic views streamed live of the total solar eclipse on August 21st, 2017.

"This app is a way to share the eclipse happening over America with the whole internet-connected world,” says Rob Rothfarb, Exploratorium Online Media Project Director and Total Solar Eclipse developer. “Whether you're in the path of totality viewing the eclipse above you or in some other part of the world, if you want to experience the excitement and drama of seeing the eclipse as it happens, Total Solar Eclipse from the Exploratorium is your access to a front-row seat."

The app also integrates a social view, which allows users to follow the excitement leading up to and during the eclipse on Twitter, and makes it possible to continue tweeting even while the app live streams the eclipse to a TV or set-top box using screen sharing. Follow along with the hashtags #eclipse2017, #solareclipse, and #totalsolareclipse. Users can also share the app’s live and on-demand videos to their own social media accounts.

“We’ve traveled to some pretty amazing places across the globe to be able to film eclipses and make them available to a large audience,” says Nicole Minor, Director of Moving Images at the Exploratorium. “Since 1998 we’ve been to Aruba, Zambia, China, Turkey, and last year we loaded our gear onto boats and traveled to the islands of Micronesia. The last time a total solar eclipse traveled across the middle of the US was June 8, 1918, so this year’s eclipse is a truly once-in-a-lifetime event and provides a great opportunity for excitement and engagement around astronomy.”

Additional Assets & Links:

Video for Total Solar Eclipse App made by the Exploratorium

Total Solar Eclipse App Website

The Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse App on Google Play

The Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse App on Apple’s App Store

About the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a playful learning laboratory of more than 600 interactive exhibits and experiences that ignite curiosity and transform the way people learn. Since 1969, the Exploratorium has influenced generations of entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, students, children, museum professionals and everyday doers, reaching nearly 180 million people annually from around the globe.


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