Some may assume that total solar eclipses are predominately spectacles and have limited potential for the scientific community. However, many science-minded individuals assert there is still a lot these events can offer, including the ability to see the sun “better” during eclipses and get a glimpse of the innermost part of the sun’s corona.
As reported by NPR, the inner corona is especially intriguing to astronomers and researchers, as its activity has the ability to affect electrical grids and communications systems on Earth. While scientists can examine the corona at any time using artificial means to block the sun’s light, the moon provides a more precise option, allowing for a better view of the inner corona.
Matt Penn, an astronomer with the National Solar Observatory in Arizona, also considers the corona “the most beautiful thing you can see in the sky.” He said, “The corona is just fantastic and filamentary and delicate and awesome.”
Penn also asserts that the viewing window for the corona is brief, lasting only a couple of minutes based on being located on a single spot on the ground. “And the corona is big,” said Penn. “It changes, but slowly, and in two minutes you can’t really see changes that we want to study in the solar wind.”
To assist with the research, Penn organized Citizen CATE: The Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse experiment, which will allow for a more comprehensive viewing by coordinating the efforts of volunteers placed at 68 sites throughout the total eclipse’s 2,500-mile path. The volunteer staff will use identical telescopes when capturing photos, helping to create a more consistent result.
Bob Baer, a member of the CATE team representing Southern Illinois University, said, “With that many telescopes, you can get continuous coverage of the eclipse from coast-to-coast during totality.”
The images from the telescopes will be combined to create a continuous movie which, according to Penn, gives the researchers the ability to “observe the corona for 93 minutes and therefore see changes that we wouldn’t normally otherwise detect.”
Other viewing options are also being used by researchers, with projects focused on the use of airplanes, high-altitude balloons, and satellites for imagery.
The Eclipse Ballooning Project, being run by Montana State University, will involve over 50 balloons sending back live video feeds of the eclipse and certain atmospheric changes as viewed from the edge of space.
Angela Des Jardins, who’s running the Eclipse Balloon Project, stated, “Normally, the atmosphere experiences change with night and day, but the eclipse coming across the country, in a dark shadow at an average of about 1,500 miles per hour, is going to set up waves in the atmosphere.”
Other scientists are also using the balloon project for additional experiments, including one that will determine who bacteria reacts to the high altitude conditions that are said to resemble the surface of Mars.