UTA educating schoolchildren about solar eclipse

NSF funds will also support space research related to once-in-a-lifetime event

Wednesday, Mar 06, 2024 • Katherine Egan Bennett : contact

sun corona during eclipse
Left: Sun by ESA's PROBA2 satellite, Right: Photo during 2017 eclipse, Photo S.R. Cranmer and A.R. Winebarge

The University of Texas at Arlington has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support educational activities related to the upcoming eclipse.

UTA faculty and graduate students are visiting elementary, middle and high schools in the DFW area in March to give talks to about 4,000 students explaining the natural phenomena occurring during the eclipse and the physics behind it. UTA will also provide special eclipse glasses for students to use to avoid eye damage.

The $50,000 grant will also provide for about 1,500 students to take field trips to the UTA Planetarium, one of the three largest in Texas, to learn about the eclipse prior to the April 8 event. Schools typically cover the cost of renting of school buses, but the grant will help support districts that do not have the funds for transportation.

On April 8, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington will be the largest metropolitan area in the United States in the path of the “totality” of a rare total solar eclipse. During the four-minute totality (when the moon completely blocks the sun), the entire sky will go completely dark.

UTA is hosting a “Solarbration” event on campus that is open to the public. Visitors can look through UTA’s professional telescopes to see the sky although the eclipse will be viewable to the naked eye.

yue deng
Yue Deng

“This will be wonderful opportunity to help students appreciate more than just four minutes of darkness in the middle of the day, but also understand the space science and the celestial mechanics behind the event,” said Yue Deng, a professor of space physics at UTA and the lead researcher on the NSF grant. “Additionally, awareness of the eclipse may spark students’ curiosity in STEM when they see the dynamic change of the sun’s corona, how the wind is affected when the moon blocks the sun and how changes to the ionospheric density during the eclipse affect things they use every day, like cellphones and mapping tools.”


The grant also provides support for a two-and-a-half-day workshop for the science community to travel to Arlington for the eclipse on April 8 and stay until April 10. At the workshop, more than 100 space scientists will come together to discuss the eclipse and the various multi-scale phenomena occurring due to it.

“Solar eclipses are treated as natural laboratory experiments for ionospheric physics because of their predictive nature,” Deng said. “With UTA’s prime location to view this rare event, this workshop will be a wonderful chance to take measurements and discuss the impacts, especially as it relates to anything relying on space satellites, such as cellphones, television broadcasts and internet services.”