Blind people can now hear a solar eclipse

Now blind people can enjoy solar eclipses through sound as a group of experts has developed a device that enables the experience.

On April 8, 2024, one of the most anticipated astronomical phenomena of the decade will be observed in the skies over North America: it is a total solar eclipse. This event occurs when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun.

Although we all know that these events evoke great emotions in people, not everyone can enjoy them, such as people with visual impairments.

With this in mind, astronomers have developed a cell phone-sized device that allows blind people to enjoy the experience.


Reference image. Photo: Creative Commons

How does the device that helps blind people hear eclipses work?

The team at Harvard University’s Astronomy Laboratory has developed LightSound, a cell phone-sized device that converts ambient brightness into sound.

The sound of a flute represents the brightness of daylight, while a clarinet represents the gradual darkening effect of the solar eclipse. Quiet clicking sounds mark the fleeting minutes of totality when the moon completely obscures everything but the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.

“You want to experience what’s around you,” says Allyson Bieryla, director of the Harvard Astronomy Laboratory.

The development of this device began in 2017

LightSound’s development began before the total solar eclipse in 2017. The company worked with blind astronomer Wanda Díaz Merced, a pioneer in the use of sonification (converting data into sound).

For the 2017 solar eclipse, three devices were initially used, then he commissioned student Sóley Hyman, who is also a musician, to redesign them with his sounds before this year’s show.

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Harvard University’s Astronomy Laboratory plans to build and distribute more than 700 LightSound units to institutions that celebrate such phenomena, including universities, museums, national and state parks, and schools for the blind.

The aim of the laboratory is to make astronomy accessible to more people, assures Bieryla: “This device is not only suitable for blind or visually impaired people. It could also be a tool for a person who interacts with data differently.”

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