Eclipse science: From galloping giraffes to solar wisps

Mike Newchurch, left, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and graduate student Paula Tucker prepare a weather balloon before releasing it to perform research during the solar eclipse Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, on the Orchard Dale historical farm near Hopkinsville, Ky. The location, which is in the path of totality, is also at the point of greatest intensity. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — The giraffes ran in circles. The flamingos huddled together. And the rhinos just looked confused.

At the Nashville Zoo, visitors watched and recorded how the animals behaved when the sky turned dark during Monday’s total solar eclipse. And there was plenty to see when the moon slipped in front of the sun.

The only trouble was with 7,000 visitors and lots of noise — drowning out the zoo animals, crickets and cicadas — zookeepers still have to figure whether the strange behavior was from the eclipse or the people there to watch the show.

The zoo project was one of many science experiments planned for the eclipse. Citizen-scientists and their more professional counterparts loaded up on pictures, video, data and just weird experiences as the eclipse’s shadow crossed the United States, especially paying attention to the edges flaring out of the darkened sun.

Telescopes on the ground, a fleet of satellites and astronauts in space watched the eclipse unfold. High-altitude balloons were released across the country, carrying experiments and providing live video.

Now scientists have to figure out what it all means.

“The balloon footage live was fantastic,” said Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University, who headed the balloon project. “You could really see the sunset effect, the shadow come across.”

For the National Solar Observatory’s Citizen CATE project, everyday people were given telescopes and camera equipment and trained to record the eclipse as it moved from Oregon to South Carolina.

“It was really successful,” said Matt Penn, an astronomer who ran the project.

Skies were clear in at least 50 of the 70 sites, including the first and last locations on the coasts, he said. By the end of Monday night, Penn hoped to have a 70-minute movie stitched together.

“We captured the right images of the science that we wanted,” he said.

Astronomers concentrated on the plumes from the sun’s polar region to help understand why the solar wind speeds up so much, Penn said. The sun’s upper atmosphere, called the corona, or crown, was the focus of astronomers’ attention. It’s easier to study when the sun is blocked.

Honor S. Hare, a freshman at the University of Kentucky, was at an elementary school in Adairville, Kentucky, overseeing the observations there.

“It has been a great opportunity and I have learned so much,” she said.

At the Nashville Zoo, the giraffes were the stars. Especially 6-month-old Mazi and 3-year-old Nasha.

“They’re crazy running around,” said Nate Zatezalo, who came from Cleveland, where he volunteers at the zoo there.

During the full eclipse, all four giraffes ran. That’s not unusual for the two juveniles who scamper at twilight after the crowds leave. But the father giraffe, Congo, “usually doesn’t do anything other than being the dad” and is regal and above it all, said zoo volunteer Stephan Foust. But even the above-it-all dad got in on the running during darkness.

Zookeepers reported that before totality the orangutans climbed to the highest heights they’ve ever gone.

Teresa Morehead of Indianapolis came to the zoo to help track the animals on an app called iNaturalist.

She staked out the giraffes and rhinos. The rhinos wandered a bit, seeming to head to bed.

“I was surprised to the see they were running,'” she said, although noting that they seemed more confused than anything.

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AP video journalist Kristin Hall contributed from Nashville.

Cincinnati Zoo’s baby hippo to star in Facebook video series

FILE – In this May 31, 2017 file photo, Fiona makes her debut to the media in Hippo Cove at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, in Cincinnati. The zoo says its popular baby hippo will star in an internet video series called “The Fiona Show” starting next week. The zoo says the first video will be available on the show’s Facebook page on Tuesday, Aug. 29. It’s not clear how many videos are planned or how regularly they will be produced.. (Liz Dufour/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, File)

Aug 25, 2017 10:13AM (GMT-07:00)

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Zoo says its popular baby hippo will star in an internet video series called “The Fiona Show” starting next week.

The zoo says the first video will be available on the show’s Facebook page on Tuesday. It’s not clear how many videos are planned or how regularly they will be produced.

Fiona has already garnered millions of views on the zoo’s Facebook page since her premature birth in January.

Since then, her face has appeared on ice cream and beer, she was named an honorary deputy sheriff and a children’s book about her was announced.

Fiona was born Jan. 24 weighing about 29 pounds (13 kilograms). She overcame early health scares and now weighs more than 450 pounds (200 kilograms).