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This latest invention will help blind people experience solar eclipses with their ears

A handheld device developed by a team of scientists and astronomers can translate the intensity of sunlight into a range of sounds.

This latest invention will help blind people experience solar eclipses with their ears
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Drew Rae

The solar eclipse is a celestial phenomenon that most humans want to witness from behind protective glasses. One direct look at the eclipse with the naked eye can cause a lot of damage to the eyes but with the right measures, it is a sight to behold. However, what about the visually impaired folks who have never seen a solar eclipse but want to experience one? A bunch of sharp minds at Harvard University have developed a handheld device that will allow fully or partially blind people to experience the solar eclipse through the medium of sound.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Leo Patrizi
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Leo Patrizi

For those wondering how a seemingly impossible feat will be achieved, Smithsonian Magazine reports that a total solar eclipse is set to happen on April 8, 2024, that will be visible all over North America. The little device developed by the researchers is called LightSound, which receives light from the sun as an input and converts its intensity into musical tones. The people working on this project aim to distribute more than 750 free devices to groups hosting eclipse events, such as North Manchester Public Library.

"The sky belongs to everyone. And if this event is available to the rest of the world, it has to be available for the blind, too," Wanda Díaz-Merced, a blind astronomer who is a part of the team that developed the LightSound device, told the Associated Press. "I want students to be able to hear the eclipse, to hear the stars." Yuki Hatch, a high school student from Texas who is also an astronomy enthusiast and visually impaired, told The New York Times that the device "will give them more information than what they can see with their eyeballs." As the eclipse sets in, the observers will experience a temporary drop in the temperature with the sun blocked out for a while.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Sebastian Arie Voortman
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Sebastian Arie Voortman

The LightSound device will work to convert the data received from the sun into audible notes that will allow people to hear the eclipse. When the sunlight's intensity shifts, different kinds of instrumental sound play through the device connected to headphones. Flute tones represent a bright light's presence and clarinet plays when the light gets dimmer, as noted by Stephanie Vermillion from National Geographic in January.



 

The research team consists of five people- Allyson Bieryla, Sóley Hyman, Elliot Richards, Daniel Davis and Diaz-Merced, per the official website of The LightSound Project. Their first prototype was developed in 2017, to be used for that year's total solar eclipse visible from all the regions between Oregon and South Carolina. The team tested one device from Wyoming and two others from Kentucky's Morehead State University and the Kentucky School for the Blind. The team redesigned the device in 2019 to improve the sound quality and tested it during an eclipse in South America that year.

The team also held workshops at the University of Texas, Austin and San Antonio, where volunteers could build the devices to be donated. "That's been heartwarming to me—just the amount of work that people have given to this project and the excitement around it," Bieryla, a Harvard University astronomer, told The New York Times. As of 2024, the team has received over 2,500 requests for the device and they have sent them to several locations in North America. The LightSound device is an extraordinary tech accomplishment that aims to make astronomy less reliant on only visual information.

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