These profs from Udupi are teaching kids about solar eclipses. Here's why

Retired Professor A P Bhat and young lecturer Atul  Bhat from Poorna Prajna College in Udupi are on a journey to create awareness about the Annular Solar Eclipse which will occur on December 26, 2019
A student from Physics department in Poornaprajna college showing the image of sun using pinhole apparatus (Pic: Atul Bhat)
A student from Physics department in Poornaprajna college showing the image of sun using pinhole apparatus (Pic: Atul Bhat)

Although we've learnt about lunar and solar eclipses in detail in school, how many of us as adults today have actually had the opportunity to witness one for real? While this trend has changed among children in urban communities who have access to telescopes and other paraphernalia required to view these eclipses, the scenario continues to be the same for children from the rural community. They are hardly aware of how eclipses occur. 

With a wish to change these children's stars, A P Bhat, a retired Physics professor and young lecturer Atul Bhat, both from Poornaprajna College, Udupi, are working to create awareness about eclipses in rural areas. He says, "The southern part of India will witness the annular solar eclipse on December 26, 2019. But there is no awareness about this among children in rural schools. We are a part of the Poornaprajna Amateur Astronomers Club (PAAC) through which we conduct many programmes for school children to kindle their interest in astronomy. Similarly, we started this initiative a few months ago and have covered over 300 schools in Mangaluru and Udupi regions. We have set a target of around 1,000 schools in different parts of Karnataka and hope to achieve it."

The session in every school takes place for two hours. For the first half of the session, Prof Bhat talks about astronomy in detail including the galaxies in our universe, our solar system, some discoveries and inventions taking place and why one should make a career in Astronomy.  In the second half, his student, Atul takes over the session and explains more about the annular solar eclipse. They carry a pinhole apparatus, a telescope and a few posters that contain diagrams of an eclipse. Explaining how they use these apparatus, Atul says, "We take the pinhole apparatus which can be used to cast the image of the Sun on the white wall or an LED screen. The apparatus is designed in a way that students can actually get to see the image of the Sun which is equivalent to the size of a basketball. Aside from this, we use a four-inch automatic telescope called Altazimuth Refractor to show them a few planets. The plus point of this telescope is that one can set a time to watch the stars or planets. You can also help others view it on the LCD screen using the planetary camera, especially on the day of eclipses where there is a shorter time to watch. At the end of the session, we ask the children questions and whoever gives the right answer will be gifted a solar eclipse viewing glasses. Later, we will demonstrate the uses of these glasses."

Prof A P Bhat teaching children in government schools to use Solar eclipse glasses 

According to Atul, there is a certain way to use these glasses and the wrong method of usage could impact your eyes. “One should use ISO-approved eclipse viewers and there should not be dents or scratches on the glasses. Cover your eyes with the glasses before you look up at the Sun. After you glance at it, turn away and remove the glasses. Don't remove them when you are still looking at the Sun. Never look at the partially eclipsed Sun through an unfiltered camera or telescope or binoculars," he stresses.

Another reason for the duo to create awareness among children is to help turn them away from superstitious beliefs. "Usually, children get told by elders or others at home that eclipses are not good and they have a negative impact on our lives and so on. But through this programme, we tell children that eclipses are neither good nor bad. It's a natural phenomenon that occurs in the universe."

Without making it complicated, both A P Bhat and Atul try to explain the process in very simple terms, "When the Moon comes between Earth and the Sun, in perfect alignment, an eclipse is said to occur. Due to a slight tilt between the orbital plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth and that of Earth's orbit around the Sun, an annular or total eclipse occurs. This kind of position of the Moon is termed as apogee which means that the Moon doesn't entirely cover the Sun. If it does, then it's called a total eclipse."

Some common myths during a solar eclipse:
People in India believe that one should not consume food during an eclipse because it is assumed to be poisonous
In Italy, people believe that flower saplings planted during an eclipse bear brighter flowers 
Greeks believed that an eclipse was a sign of an angry Sun and the beginning of disasters

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