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Inquiry 4: How Can I Learn More About Eclipses?

The moon revolves around the Earth and the Earth and moon revolve around the sun. As this occurs, some of the sun's light is blocked by the moon's shadow or by the Earth's shadow. When the Earth's shadow falls upon the moon, a lunar eclipse occurs; conversely, when the moon's shadow falls upon the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs. One way to demonstrate a solar eclipse would be to use a wall clock or other large circular object and a coin or other small circular object. If the clock is the Earth and the coin is the moon, you can position them so that the coin eclipses the clock.

Communication - Design a way to demonstrate both solar and lunar eclipses to someone who does not understand them. You may want to use sunlight to provide the distinct shadows needed to do this. Present and explain the models to your class or to someone else.

Cultural Interpretations - People from many cultures have developed myths and legends about eclipses. Some have believed that an eclipse is a sign of impending natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake. Others thought that an eclipse foretold the death or downfall of a ruler. The Chinese once believed that an eclipse of the sun occurred because a dragon was eating the sun. As a result, the Chinese would produce great noise such as drumming and banging on pans to frighten the dragon away and to bring back the sunlight. Research a myth or legend about eclipses from other cultures and write an essay discussing your findings.

Role Play - Design a skit or play that illustrates various cultural beliefs about eclipses. These skits could be performed for your class as they study how different cultures interpret the meaning of eclipses.

Medical Research - Whenever a solar eclipse occurs, we are warned by the media and the medical community not to look directly at the sun. While looking directly at the sun is never a good idea, it is particularly harmful during a solar eclipse. Find out why this is true. List reasons why the sun's rays are particularly concentrated, describe cases of actual damage to the eye caused by looking at the sun, and list sources for your information. Then, design a way to present this information to a larger audience: the school, other classes, or the general public.

History - It is believed that Christopher Columbus used his knowledge of solar eclipses to impress West Indian natives. Because he knew when an eclipse was to occur, he was able to use this natural event to solidify his power over the native population. Brainstorm and research instances where knowledge of the natural world translates into power for those who "own" the knowledge.

Reading - Read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (ISBN 0553211439). This is a wonderful story of a man who travels back to the time of King Arthur and must frequently outsmart Merlin. It includes an episode in which he uses the knowledge of when a solar eclipse occurred to save his own life.

Writing - Obtain an almanac to find a list of dates when solar eclipses occurred. Choose a date and then write a story in which the solar eclipse plays an important part.

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