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Touching the Sun

A PBS MULTI-PLATFORM PROJECT ON THE SCIENCE & SYMBOLISM OF THE SUN

Look up to our source of life on Earth — the Sun — it is more powerful and impactful than you can possibly imagine.  The Sun influences all of life and humanity – from our agriculture, climate, and technology to our health, culture, and spirituality. Because of the Sun’s profound effect on the rhythms of human life, many cultures throughout time have sought to touch the Sun. 

The Sun is the only star that counts for humanity. This is where there is a species surviving under the Sun. There is nothing else that compares to the Sun.  

        — Dr. Madhulika Guhathakurta, NASA’s Heliophysics Science Division

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:

Looking Sun-ward has provoked curiosity about the universe and contemplation about what it means to be human. With Touching the Sun, the multi-platform PBS documentary project, audiences will experience the awe and wonder of the Sun’s fiery secrets and life-sustaining force.

Touching The Sun probes our closest star – its mysterious origins, savage power, and lifeforce energy – and follows the people who uncover its scientific secrets and celebrate its symbolic meaning. It captures the visually stunning and transformative 2024 total solar eclipse, dives into the science of the Sun’s influence on the Earth and solar system, and examines the current and historical cultural context of Sun watching and Sun worshiping across time and cultures. ​

We meet NASA heliophysicists shedding light on eclipse totality, solar geometry and the source of the solar winds, researchers chasing the elusive corona on WB-57 jets in the Moon’s shadow, space weather experts tracking sunspots and predicting dangerous geo storms, Indigenous elders sharing the spiritual symbolism of the Sun and the sacred rituals in their cultures, anthropologists uncovering ancient civilizations’ Sun worshiping practices and cosmic event predictions, artists creating celestial art in search of human enlightenment, and astronauts and conservationists entreating us to cherish the Sun, Moon, and Earth and steward our planet and humanity. 

Touching the Sun explores humanity’s relationship with our life-sustaining Sun and follows our quest to understand its mysteries. It allows us to touch the Sun.

MULTI-PLATFORM PROJECT:

The multi-platform PBS project is helmed by a woman-owned duo of award-winning documentary filmmakers and journalists. Our goal is to channel the universal connection to the Sun’s lifeforce and desire to uncover its secrets to engage more audiences in an understanding and appreciation of science, nature, and culture. By highlighting both the scientific and cultural aspects of solar phenomena, we seek to foster a deeper appreciation for our closest star and its influence on our world.

Touching the Sun is anchored by a feature-length documentary that complements the multi-platform project’s elements: 

  • Documentary film capturing the 2024 total solar eclipse from Texas to Maine, exploring solar science and corona research, and celebrating Sun-watching in lore and ritual throughout many cultures 
  • Digital series with a deeper dive into the science of the Sun and total solar eclipses and their place in ancient, First Nations, and modern cultures 
  • Educational lesson plans for K-12 students in math, science, and social studies using documentary clips
  • Social impact initiative with key partners focused on stewardship of the Earth (climate, sustainability, outdoors, dark skies) and humanity (tolerance, altruism, compassion) 

DOCUMENTARY FILM:

Touching the Sun is an enthralling documentary that explores the profound influence of our nearest star. 

Delve into the awe-inspiring phenomenon of total solar eclipses. Touching the Sun travels around the globe to witness the breathtaking experience of totality, featuring stunning footage of the eclipse and capturing the emotional reactions of eclipse chasers. We explore how the alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth creates this rare cosmic moment and how it impacts the environment and humans. We reveal the profound reverence total solar eclipses inspire, similar to the transformative Overview Effect experienced by astronauts in outer space, and share research documenting their profound psychological effects. We journey through the history of eclipse predictions, from ancient civilizations’ records to modern-day astronomical calculations. We uncover how total solar eclipses have been woven into myths and legends, the role of ancient solar deities, and the rituals of total solar eclipses in various cultures. 

Jump into the cutting-edge heliophysics research that seeks to unravel the Sun’s greatest secrets. We explore the Sun’s dynamic and ever-changing sunspots, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, solar winds, and solar storms. We learn about the technologies and methodologies scientists use to study the Sun’s surface, corona, and atmosphere, as well as the mysteries of its temperature, dynamic properties, and magnetic fields. We understand why the Sun’s behavior and solar cycles are crucial for predicting space weather and protecting Earth’s technology and infrastructure from these solar events. We follow the groundbreaking research of a group of scientists studying the elusive corona only during total solar eclipses and reveal the stunning images from their research. We journey inside innovative space missions and observatories, such as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, SDO, SOHO, STEREO, PUNCH, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, and the ground-based Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. We imagine how the Sun can fuel our research and transportation with NASA’s newly launched Solar Sails. 

Travel through time and across cultures to uncover how the Sun has powered life on Earth – the food we eat, the explosion of species, our circadian rhythms, and our belief systems. We delve into the diverse ways humanity has revered and mythologized the Sun, examining how ancient civilizations worshiped it as a deity and celebrated it through rituals and festivals – from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica and beyond. We see how these cultures built monuments to the Sun, like Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and the Chaco Canyon temple, to align with solar events and developed calendars based on the Sun’s cycles. We follow a modern-day practitioner of Sun-worshiping culture  who is carrying out rituals and public outreach today, bridging their worldview with modern science. We explore how contemporary cultures continue to celebrate and draw inspiration from the Sun and appreciate the Sun’s power as our source of life.

Touching the Sun is a captivating exploration of the Sun, blending scientific discovery with cultural storytelling. 

THE VOICES OF TOUCHING THE SUN:

NASA heliophysicists detail their quest to uncover the Sun’s greatest mysteries –  the source of acceleration of the solar wind and why the corona is hotter than the Sun’s surface, and key missions such as the Parker Solar Probe, SDO, STEREO, and PUNCH to reveal these secrets and clues to the Sun’s origins.

Solar eclipse researchers work with NASA’s Johnson’s Space Center to deploy sensitive instrumentation on WB-57 jets to study the corona during the finite moments of totality to understand dynamic coronal activity and solar winds.

Science researchers and educators highlight NASA-supported 2024 eclipse citizen science research, including CATE (35 telescopes from Texas to Maine map the Sun’s corona); SunSketcher (smartphones along the path of totality image the Sun’s surface); and Mega Movie 2024 (citizen cameras capture solar jets and plumes).

NOAA scientists track the Sun’s solar cycles, and the emergence of sunspots, and coronal mass ejections, in an effort to predict magnetic geostorms that threaten Earth’s satellites and power grid.

Psychologists document the six stages of emotion people experience when witnessing a total solar eclipse and explain the crucial role the Sun plays in our physical and mental health. 

Anthropologists trace the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Persians, Mayans, and Incas’ relationship with the solar cycles and the temples they built to celebrate the Sun.  

Mayan, Toltec, and Native American tribal leaders explain their cultures’ connections with our closest star and Sun-centric belief systems and share their Sun ceremonies and rituals.  

Astronauts chronicle their efforts to better the world — inspired by their new understanding of our special place in the universe from their time in outer space.

Eclipse chasers, families, artists, musicians, and futurists marvel on the inspiration of the Sun and how it fulfills a universal human need. 

Touch the Sun: Celebrate the marvels of our Sun and understand its profound impact on humanity, our planet, culture, and scientific endeavors.

CONTACT US: Touchingthesuncontact@gmail.com

 

Associated Members

Anne Zeiser, Independent Filmmaker

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Natasha Davison, Producer

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We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture