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Corona eclipse

The Great American Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017, the U.S. will be treated to its own solar eclipse--a total solar eclipse that wends its way mid-day over 90 minutes from Oregon to South Carolina. While only those in that direct path will see a total eclipse, the rest of the country will see some version of a partial solar eclipse during that time frame as well.

Total solar eclipses provide a unique opportunity to study the sun's corona, the part of the sun's atmosphere that is the nexus for events that spawn conditions that affect space weather. However, this year's unique eclipse path, mostly over land, sets up particularly good conditions for gathering data about the sun by way of an NSF National Solar Observatory (NSO)- organized citizen science project, Citizen CATE. NSF's National Solar Observatory is preparing for this occasion with an interactive map to help people find a good location to observe the eclipse in totality and understand how to do so safely.

Scientists at the High Altitude Observatory (HAO) of NSF's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will lead a field campaign in partnership with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to fly an instrument called the Airborne Infrared Spectrometer (AIR-Spec) onboard NSF/NCAR's Gulfstream V research aircraft. AIR-Spec will collect infrared data from the sun's corona during the eclipse, without needing to contend with clouds or compensate for the atmospheric distortion that affects ground-based telescopes. AIR-Spec will probe the complex magnetic environment of the sun's corona. The results will seed the next generation of space weather instrumentation.

By early 2020, however, NSF won't need to wait for an eclipse to study the sun's corona in great detail. NSF's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) will be the world's most sensitive instrument for studying the various layers of the sun including the corona. DKIST will include a coronagraph, which allows researchers to create an artificial eclipse blocking the bright light of the sun. This will allow researchers an unprecedented, close-up view of the solar corona, which is nearly 1 million times dimmer than the light from the sun itself.

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