News / Toronto

Family of citizen scientists shed light on the summer's solar eclipse

Arushi Nath, 8, and Artash Nath, 11 presented their solar eclipse findings to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada club on Wednesday.

Siblings Artash, 11, left, and Arushi, 8, collected data about the last solar eclipse on a homemade device they created.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Siblings Artash, 11, left, and Arushi, 8, collected data about the last solar eclipse on a homemade device they created.

Remember the solar eclipse, back in August? Did you learn anything?

For one Toronto family of solar citizen scientists, the pan-continental blackout was actually pretty illuminating. Now they’re sharing their work with a group of astronomy pros and enthusiasts.

Arushi Nath, 8, and Artash Nath, 11, travelled with dad Vikas and mom Rati to Carbondale, Ill., where the period of “totality” — total darkness — maxed out at two minutes and 40 seconds.  

They brought along their homemade device, dubbed “Solar-X,” which is made from a lunch box but contains a small solar panel with a voltage meter and sensors to measure temperature, air pressure, humidity, visible light and infrared radiation.

They’ve been busy analyzing the data — all 20,000 lines and seven columns of it — ever since. The kids started working on their graphs on the way home.

On Wednesday, they presented their findings to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada club at the Ontario Science Centre.

The highlight of their results: a steep drop in temperature from 34 C to a low of 30.5 C while the moon was blocking the sun. However, if it weren't for the excess of heat-retaining greenhouse gases humans have put into the atmosphere, it would have fallen even more, Vikas said.

"Earth has this amazing power to radiate the heat back into the atmosphere. As soon as you turn off the incoming radiation, it loses the heat so quickly," he said.

Observing the changes when the sun is abruptly blocked — instead of dimmed, like at sunset — can shed light on the "imbalanced Earth equation" that's causing our planet to get warmer and warmer, he explained.

The kids will present their slide show while the adults take a seat.

"We tell the kids, if you're involved in a project, you should be able to speak on the project and communicate the findings. We did a practice at home," he said.

When it comes to transforming kids from consumers of technology into creators, nothing beats doing your own science, Vikas said.

"No matter how many science books we have read, nothing compares to collecting the data and doing the analysis. It's really a learning opportunity."

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