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In 2017, the U.S. will be treated to its own total solar eclipse, visible in totality in a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina. The sun will also be visible as a partial eclipse throughout the rest of the country.
Credit: National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF
The Great American Solar Eclipse
Total solar eclipses offer the best opportunity to study the sun's corona (the sun's upper level of its atmosphere). One of the sun's biggest mysteries is why its corona is so hot. The sun's core is a searing ~27million degrees Fahrenheit (F), but by the time that heat reaches the sun's surface, it cools off to a mere ~10,000 degrees F, only to again heat up to more than 18 million degrees F in the corona. No surprise, NSF-funded researchers are looking into this.
Magnetic fields wrap themselves up over approximately a five- to six-year period. Then, they spend the next five years winding down, relaxing and producing solar flares and eruptions. This 11-year cycle is called the solar activity/sunspot cycle. Understanding this process and its impact on solar weather is central to many NSF-funded solar physicists' work.
Solar Energy: Harnessing the sun's power
Have you seen those big, bulky, breakable photovoltaic cells that now collect the sun's rays? Well, what if solar energy could be harnessed using tiny collectors that could be spray painted on a roof, a wall or even a window? The science of converting sunlight into electrical energy is more than a century old, but the reality of doing it efficiently and affordably is ongoing, and NSF is funding that research.
Credit: Arizona State University
Solar prominences are bright features made of hot ionized gas called "plasma" extending outward from the sun's surface into the corona. Prominences often form loop-like structures shaped by solar magnetic fields. NSF-funded scientists study solar magnetism to determine how eruptive events like prominences and flares occur.
Credit: Woeger, Rimmele & Marino, NSO/AURA/NSF
The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) will be the largest, most powerful solar telescope in the world when it comes online in 2020 in Maui, Hawaii. DKIST has been described as a combination of microscope and Swiss Army Knife because of the very detailed imagery it will be able to obtain and the multitude of instruments that will make up this facility.
Credit: Dave Boboltz, NSF
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