The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter #3 - June 16-31, 2021

Sun Photography, Education Connection to the Sky, Teachniques, Research

Cover Story - Photographing the June 10th Eclipse, or the Sun in General

From top left clockwise: The eclipse from Padova, Italy by Dario and Giulia Tiveron, using a Sunspotter device and iPhone; from Perugi by Simonetta Ercoli, Canon EOS 1100D, 200 mm lens, 1/20 sec.; from Nahant Beach, Massachusetts, by Rich Stillman, using an Olympus E-620, zoom at 150mm with 100000 ND solar filter, 1/50 sec.; and a pinhole projection device, photographed with a Canon dSLR from Helsinki, Finland by Dr. Sedeer el-Showk. 

Four very different ways to observe a partial eclipse, all photographed within minutes of each other (from a few to less than an hour) according to their UTC times (Universal Coordinated Time, essentially Greenwich Time), but at varying distances from the annular eclipse track through the Arctic. A demonstration of parallax for sure, but geometrically and mathematically more complicated than the usual lunar or solar eclipse parallax problem in which one can determine the distance to the Moon— because there are no right angles from these these locations and views!

The Finland photo is intriguing because of the extra and inadvertent crescents. The pinhole(s) were made through a simple pinhole projection device, a Pringles chip can, attached to a pole by a store-bought wine bottle mesh. But the mesh provided its own set of varying-with-solar-orientation pinholes as well!

The images are simply made onto a piece of paper on a cardboard box that supports the pole in a slot. Ostensibly, if the pole is long enough, and in a dark enough well to provide contrast, one could presumably see sunspots, such as those starting to appear in the new sunspot cycle. (Photo from Sedeer el-Showk).

When will be the next eclipses you can try these out on?

December 4, 2021, but you have to go to the Antarctic (figures, this was an Arctic annular one, right?);

October 2021 in Europe;

An annular eclipse in October 2023 in the Americas!;

And, a total eclipse in the Americas the following April!!

Welcome to this edition of The Classroom Astronomer Newsletter. Following the publishing of this edition, an index of articles will go onto its website on—yes, that is also the website of its antecedent magazine from 2009 and not the address of the site from which you subscribe, but subsidiary webpages such as an index are not allowed on Substack.

During the past week I have been attending (virtually) the American Astronomical Society conference! Tons of stories to bring to you, and this issue has just a few!

I am Dr. Larry Krumenaker, a long-time astronomer writer and educator.  Welcome to my Universe! If you like what you read, (1) subscribe if you haven’t already,

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In This Issue:

  • Cover Story - Photographing The Sun/Eclipse

  • Connections to the Sky

  • Astronomical Teachniques

  • The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

  • The Galactic Times Newsletter Highlights

Connections to the Sky

  • Virtual Radio Universe Tours

It’s pretty hard to tour the radio universe, and harder still to tour radio observatories. They are often far away from civilization deliberately to be away from radio noise that would interfere with observations. With the pandemic, many closed not only for public tours but for astronomical usage as well.

The US National Radio Astronomy Observatories, in particular the VLA in New Mexico, began doing virtual tours, primarily online, and after some hiccups, began recording them for anytime use. The tours were more site visits than science demonstrations, using guest experts, operations staff, and a mix of all their different observatories. Tours have taken place at ALMA, VLBA, VLA, CDL and VLA operations. They generally have about 145 attendees from 25 countries and take place monthly on Saturdays at 1PM Mountain Time.

Future tours you can participate in are:

  1. Juneteenth/NAC—June 19

  2. Mapping the Radio Sky—July 17

  3. 40 Years of VLA Science—August 7

  4. VLA+NASA Collaborations—September 18th

NRAO virtual tours are at and past tours at

[Check that the solstice occurs on time with the Hermograph Sundial T-shirt!]

Astronomical Teachniques

  • It is the Earth moving that makes the Sun and stars move? Really??

We talk about how it is the Earth rotating that makes the sky, the Moon, the stars, the Sun *appear* to move in the sky, but that’s still pretty hard for some to gather in their heads. My usual teachnique is the mental image of looking out of a moving car window and seeing buildings move by. Of course, trees, telephone and light poles, and buildings don’t move, it is us in the car, but it sure looks like they do! A more tactile way is to put someone on a skateboard (sitting!) and push them along and have them watch sitting people (or traffic cones, or other things) start in front of them and fall behind as they pass them.

Here is an astronomical film I just was pointed to, though it is not that recent. A video camera was focused at a point in the summer Milky Way, and motion-compensated so the sky did not move, but showed the ground carrying the camera instead coming up as the Earth rotated to cover the stars! Check out the video!

  • Words, and How You Show Them, Matter

Two presentations at the CAP conference about three weeks ago resonated with me. One was by the venerable Rick Fienberg, AAS Press Officer and Sky and Telescope contributor/former editor, and a second by Sarah Burcher, who used video cameras (Mallincams and ZWO Cameras) on telescopes to give virtual talks online live instead of public nights at her observatory.

Fienberg’s message was the proper and careful use of words: evidence versus proof, believe versus think or suspect or surmise. I am always stressing hypothesis versus theory, even in everyday conversations in classroom discussions. Scaling also matters, such as statistical validity, as in whether or not one person getting ill from something out of a million is or is not an acceptable risk.

Meanwhile, Burcher’s take on her sky talks was that there was a theme to the night’s video, using cameras and Go-To telescopes—tracking from object to object to show the stages of stellar evolution, or the structure of the Milky Way by showing different relevent galaxy types using live video. This is very much different in my experience from many live star talks as well as telescopic events, where the objects shown are just….whatever the operators can find. Wow factors, mostly.

Some years ago I gave what I bill usually as astrophysics talks under the stars. Yes, I give star legends as we go, but I talk more about what we are seeing—stuff related to what we learn from the brightnesses, colors and locations of the stars we see (see the Teachniques column in TCA #1). At one such talk in Sicily, I had my iPad, in a holder with a wrist brace so I could easily hold it up high in the air, with simple, basic and colorful photos or diagrams so the ~60 people gathered around me could see certain chosen concepts. Would love to do that with a more modern large iPad Pro! But if a portable LCD projector and laptop, with dimmable lighting (or perhaps layers and layers of auto window tint screening to lower the light intensity) were able to be used for an hour or two off the grid, or on one in an amphitheatre, that might be pretty good, too. Then with the proper words, and a proper set of naked eye objects, such as colored stars and emission and dark nebulae, some of those same stories could be told, too.

The RAP Sheet – Research Abstracts for Practitioners

What’s in the scholarly astronomy education journals you can use NOW.

  • QuaRCS

Not exactly from a scholarly journal though certainly there must be articles on this (I didn’t check). This was from a series of three talks at the AAS on this assessment.

QuaRCS stands for the Quantitatve Reasoning for College Science and was subtitled a “validated instrument for assessing undergraudate students’ quantitatve reasoning skills and attitudes.” It is being developed by, among others, a number of astronomy educators. There are two versions, a 25-question version and a ‘lite’ version of 15. It assesses knowledge of basic quantitative skills, but measures them against attitude and affective variables as well as academic and demographic information, plus interestingly, effort.

The skills measured include reading graphs and tables, doing arithmetic, estimation, and proportional reasoning.

Take home messages:

What they found was that attitude has a very large effect on scores, but the largest of five effects was actually effort, by far, which was self-assessed according to a given scale. Other major effects on results were numerical self-efficacy, math anxiety, and the student’s feelings of math relevancy.

Also, the investigators found that poor attitudes towards math are an issue; if students can be shown that math matters, their performance in other subjects improved, and introductory astronomy courses are places to change attitudes and overall quantitative literacy. [Editor’s note: doesn’t this mean we should NOT then offer courses that are math-free as is often the case in many high schools and colleges?]

Another takeaway is that underrepresented groups tend to have higher math anxieties, a lower numerical self-efficacy, and feel math is less useful in their lives, but the researchers found that there is no ONE affective variable that can close achievement gaps.

For more information, contact .

In The Galactic Times Newsletter:

  • Cover Photo - Sunrise Over the Atlanta June 10th

  • This Just In— Astronomy News
    What Do We Know About What Happened to Orion’s Shoulder?
    Speaking of Dust, Where Does INTERSTELLAR Dust Really Come From?
    A New Jewel in Cassiopeia’s Crown
    Where Came the Oort Cloud?

  • Sky Planning Calendar
    Moon and planets for the two weeks, and other matters

  • The Galactic Times Podcast — (postponed) Exoplanetary Music

  • Astronomy in Everyday Life

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Back Issues of the original The Classroom Astronomer magazine, with articles, Teachniques, Activities (all still perfectly good today!), Article Index on the Web, Tables of Contents all still available for purchase in PDF format, at the Classroom Astronomer homepage.

Coming Soon!

Learning Astronomy Under The Northern Stars – A 365-Night Per Year Textbook

Use the stars that are ALWAYS visible to understand basic astronomy, stellar evolution, galactic structure, with the naked eye and common binoculars.  EBook (late spring) and print book coming (summer).  Detail description and advance orders coming soon.

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Thanks for visiting our Universe! Stay safe in yours!

Questions, suggestions, comments? Email them to:
Dr. Larry Krumenaker
Twitter: @ToTeachTheStars Facebook: Hermograph Press