For those who are going to be chasing the best spots in North America to view the totality of the coming solar eclipse on August 21, they will see almost 2.5 minutes of a complete eclipse. While that is impressive, for scientists it is not nearly enough. So a team of NASA jets will be in the sky chasing this total solar eclipse, and they will be making scientific measurements the entire time.
NASA Jets Will Be Chasing the Moon’s Shadow
For these NASA jets, the eclipse’s totality will last more than three times longer, as it will reach over seven full minutes. Their goal will be to take readings of the Sun’s corona, making more detailed observations than those made during normal sun activity. They are also planning to take some specific temperature readings from the planet Mercury. This is something difficult to do when the Sun is blazing at full strength.
The Boulder, Colorado Southwest Research Institute has specially outfitted two bomber jets built in the 1950’s with nose cone telescopes. These jet planes follow the trail of the eclipse at very high altitudes, making measurements the entire way with their stabilized instruments.
“These could well turn out to be the best ever observations of high-frequency phenomena in the corona,” Dan Seaton said, a scientist with the University of Colorado in Boulder involved with the project. “Extending the observing time and going to very high altitude might allow us to see a few events or track waves that would be essentially invisible in just two minutes of observations from the ground.”
They hope to gain more information on why the Sun’s layers vary so much in temperature, from millions to mere thousands of degrees. The current theory involves something called nanoflares, smaller solar flares not detectable during normal conditions because of their size. With the total solar eclipse, however, they hope to see if these truly exist.
Image Source: NASA