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Solar Eclipse 2024

NASA 5 Experiments for 2024 Solar Eclipse


NASA has selected five experiments to be conducted during the total solar eclipse of 2024. On April 8, 2024, a considerable part of North America will witness a brief period of darkness as the Moon obstructs the Sun’s radiant light. This extraordinary phenomenon not only promises to captivate millions of people but also presents an exceptional chance for scientists to delve into the study of the Sun, Earth, and their intricate interactions.

Eclipse I project
The 2017 eclipse as captured by Chasing the Eclipse I project. Credits: SwRI/NASA/Daniel B. Seaton

Significance of Total Solar Eclipse

To maximize the scientific potential of the 2024 solar eclipse, NASA will fund five projects involving researchers from various academic institutions. These projects will utilize a diverse range of tools, such as high-altitude research planes equipped with cameras, ham radios, and more. Additionally, two of the projects aim to engage non-experts in their research efforts.

Peg Luce, the interim director of the Heliophysics Division within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the headquarters in Washington, conveyed her enthusiasm regarding the selected ventures. She expressed, “Following a gap of seven years since the previous total solar eclipse in the United States, we are thrilled to unveil the five new projects that have been chosen to investigate the 2024 solar eclipse.”. We eagerly anticipate the insights these experiments will provide about our Sun and its influence on Earth.”

In the mesmerizing event of the total 2024 solar eclipse, the Moon gracefully conceals the Sun’s radiant visage, granting a splendid opportunity to keenly observe the Sun’s outer atmosphere, commonly referred to as the corona. This celestial phenomenon offers a remarkable chance to delve into the secrets of our star’s captivating aura.

Kelly Korreck, a program scientist at NASA Headquarters, emphasized the historical significance of solar eclipses in scientific discovery, stating, “Solar eclipses have long been utilized by scientists as invaluable opportunities for expanding our knowledge. They have enabled us to discover helium, provided evidence for the theory of general relativity, and deepened our understanding of how the Sun impacts Earth’s upper atmosphere.”

Camera Deployment in Solar Eclipse

Supported by NASA’s fleet of research aircraft soaring at high altitudes, one of the selected projects of the 2024 solar eclipse will deploy an advanced high-resolution camera capable of capturing both infrared and visible light. This state-of-the-art equipment will be strategically positioned at a remarkable altitude of 50,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, meticulously capturing the intricate details of the eclipse through photography. This technological marvel promises to deliver stunning imagery, allowing us to delve into the eclipse with unparalleled precision and awe-inspiring visuals. This unique vantage point promises to provide breathtaking imagery and invaluable insights into the celestial spectacle. Led by Amir Caspi at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, this project aims to identify new features and structures in the middle and lower corona, taking advantage of the reduced atmospheric interference. The findings may also contribute to the study of the Sun’s dust ring and the detection of asteroids that approach the Sun.

What are Some WB-57 Research Planes Observations?

Another project utilizing NASA’s WB-57 research planes will carry cameras and spectrometers to study the temperature, chemical composition, and coronal mass ejections (large bursts of solar material) in the corona. By carefully charting a course along the eclipse’s trajectory, the aircraft will experience an extended duration of over two minutes within the captivating embrace of the Moon’s shadow. This strategic maneuver ensures that the planes maximize their time within this celestial phenomenon, allowing for enhanced observations and data collection. The team, led by Shadia Habbal from the University of Hawaii, anticipates that these investigations will yield insights into the corona’s structures and the origins of the solar wind—a constant stream of particles emitted by the Sun.

Solar Eclipse QSO Parties

In a unique initiative, amateur radio operators are invited to participate in “Solar Eclipse QSO Parties” during the 2024 total solar eclipse and the October annular solar eclipse. Led by Nathaniel Frissell of The University of Scranton, these parties aim to maximize radio contacts (“QSOs” in ham radio terminology) between operators located in different regions. By monitoring the strength and range of their communications, radio operators will examine the changes in the ionosphere—a region of the upper atmosphere that becomes electrically charged due to solar radiation—during eclipses. Past research has revealed that solar eclipses exert a notable influence on the propagation of radio waves by modifying the electron density within the ionosphere. This fascinating phenomenon showcases how the eclipse event affects the intricate balance of charged particles in our atmosphere, ultimately shaping the behavior of radio signals.

WB-57F jet
A WB-57F jet is readied for a test run at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/Norah Moran

2024 Eclipse Shadow and SuperDARN radars

The 2024 solar eclipse’s darkest shadow path will traverse several locations equipped with SuperDARN radars, part of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, which monitors space weather in Earth’s upper atmospheric layers. Exploiting this opportunity, a project led by Bharat Kunduri at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will employ three SuperDARN radars to study the ionosphere’s response to the eclipse. The team will compare the radar readings with computer models to address questions about how the ionosphere behaves during a solar eclipse.

NASA and Active Regions of the Sun

Another project led by NASA scientist Thangasamy Velusamy, in collaboration with teachers from the Lewis Center for Education Research in Southern California and members of the center’s Solar Patrol citizen science program, will focus on observing “active regions” of the Sun. Active regions are magnetically complex areas that form over sunspots. By monitoring the Moon’s passage over these regions during both the 2023 annular eclipse and the 2024 total solar eclipse, the team will utilize the 34-meter Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) to detect subtle changes in radio waves emitted by the active areas. This technique was successfully employed during the annular eclipse in May 2012, revealing previously unseen features of the Sun.

The selected experiments for the total solar eclipse of 2024 promise to unlock valuable insights about the Sun, its effects on Earth, and the various phenomena associated with this celestial event.

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