Feb 1, 2024 - News

LightSound creates eclipse devices for blind and low-vision people

LightSound devices stacked together in a box.

Completed LightSound devices at the University of Texas' workshop this week. Photo: Courtesy of Trent Lesikar, UT Austin

Instead of grabbing a pair of solar eclipse glasses, people who are blind or have limited vision can experience the total solar eclipse by listening to it.

What's happening: Volunteers across the country, including in Austin and San Antonio, are working to create more than 750 LightSound devices to distribute at no cost to groups hosting solar eclipse events.

  • University of Texas volunteers built 140 devices this week as part of a two-day workshop.
A photo of a person holding an iPhone flashlight over the LightSound device.
Volunteers shine a light over their work as they build the LightSound device. Photo: Courtesy of Trent Lesikar, UT Austin

How it works: The LightSound prototype was first developed for the 2017 solar eclipse in Wyoming and in Kentucky.

  • The devices use a technique called sonification" to convert light intensity into sound.
  • As the Moon eclipses the Sun, the sunlight begins to dim and the LightSound device outputs a change in the musical tone, according to the LightScape project.
  • The device can be attached to headphones or a speaker and can be powered by a 9V battery, rechargeable Li-ion battery or USB.

What they’re saying: “Austin is home to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), an important education center, and so the partnership between UT, LightSound and TSBVI makes sense,” said McDonald Observatory research scientist Greg Mace.

Be smart: Central Texas is in the path of totality on April 8, when the region will experience a total solar eclipse for the first time since the 14th century.

  • Eclipse glasses should be used for those who plan to look up at the Sun. Sunglasses aren't safe for viewing the Sun during an eclipse.
  • However, there may be a few minutes when the Moon completely blocks the Sun when it will be safe to look without solar glasses for areas in the path of totality.

What's next: LightSound officials will be back during South by Southwest, although no additional workshops have been added in Austin.

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