Snippet Lesson Plan on Total Eclipse 

Subject: Science & Technology — Astronomy

Ages: 10+: Middle and High School Levels

Length: Snippet: 1 minute, 35 seconds; using this snippet and discussing it will add about 15 minutes to an existing lesson plan on solar eclipses.

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Students will be able see a faithful representation of a total solar eclipse showing Baily’s beads, the diamond ring effect, and the solar corona.


The solar eclipse shown in “Dolores Claiborne” faithfully reproduces the correct atmospheric and light conditions as well as the phases of a total solar eclipse. While there is nothing like being outside during a total solar eclipse, this snippet will allow students to vicariously participate in part of that experience.


Dolores Claiborne has recently discovered that her husband has been sexually abusing their 13-year-old daughter. She decides to murder the man by tricking him into falling down an old well-shaft while the people in the town are celebrating a total solar eclipse. The segment shows the man failing in his efforts to grab on to anything that will keep him from falling to his death. As the husband falls to his death, the Sun emerges from behind the Moon and a new day dawns for Dolores Claiborne. The segment ends with Dolores’ voice-over, addressing her daughter many years after the murder.


Location: Located in DVD Chapter 27, the snippet runs from 1:45:25 to 1:47:00. It is 1 minute 35 seconds long. Minute and second calculations may differ from disc to disc. Check your disc for exact locations before using the film in class.

Possible Problems with this Snippet: None.

What about showing the whole movie? TWM does not recommend showing the entire film in class because it is a waste of time. Students will get all that the movie has to offer about a solar eclipse from the snippet.

This film is available from


Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring Effect: When the Moon is about to fully interpose itself between the Earth and the solar disc, the mountainous nature of the Moon’s surface allows the Sun to shine its last rays between the mountains. This produces a series of light beads in the last seconds before the totality of the eclipse. These are called Baily’s Beads, named after their discoverer, Francis Baily. The last bright flash of light, when just one bead is visible, often creates a beautiful sight called the diamond ring effect.

Totality: the Shadow of the Moon: The path of totality is the area on the Earth’s surface from which the total eclipse can be seen. This is about 100 miles wide and about 10,000 miles long. Many people try to chase eclipses all over the world in order to experience this effect. Those who have done so confirm that it is like nothing they have ever witnessed and that seeing photographs is not like being there.

Totality: the solar corona: The most spectacular sight of all is the solar corona. The corona (crown in Latin) is a part of the Sun made up of gas that surrounds the plasma which makes up the body of the Sun. Plasma consists of positive ions and negative electrons from atoms of hydrogen gas that have become superheated and have broken apart. In daylight, the surface of the Sun outshines the corona. An eclipse is the only chance that lay people have to see the corona. The same was true of astronomers until observatories like NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (“SOHO”) were launched into space, allowing for the constant monitoring of the Sun, including the corona. The SOHO observatory is able to produce an artificial eclipse for scientists to analyze whenever such an observation is needed.


1. Cue the DVD to the beginning of the snippet.

2. Review the links referenced in this Guide, pick those that are appropriate for the class and the lesson, and decide when to present them to the class.


1. Provide an appropriate introduction to Baily’s Beads, the Diamond Ring Effect and the corona of the Sun. See Helpful Background Section above.

2. Ask students whether anyone has ever witnessed a solar eclipse, particularly a total solar eclipse. If someone in the class actually has seen one in person, let them describe what they remember from that event.

3. Introduce the snippet describing the context in which the events to be watched are unfolding. See Description of the Snippet, above.

4. Play the snippet. As it is quite short and an eclipse is indeed beautiful to watch, you may want to show it once or twice more through the lesson on solar eclipses. It is a nice way to recap what has been learned.

5. Ask students which aspects of a total solar eclipse they can identify in the snippet. You want them to name and describe at least 1) Baily’s beads, 2) the diamond ring effect; 3) the phase of totality, and 4) the spectacular corona around the Sun.

6. TWM suggests that students be informed that in modern times, the woman in the snippet would not have had to kill her husband in order to stop the child abuse or to get justice. The police and child protective services have become good at identifying and jailing sexual predators. Students should also be cautioned that Dolores Claiborne would have done substantial damage to the retinas of her eyes if she had looked directly at the Sun, as is shown in the movie.


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