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HomescienceThe solar eclipse promises to be the best yet for science experiments

The solar eclipse promises to be the best yet for science experiments


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April Total solar eclipse It promises to be a scientific mine, thanks to new spacecraft, telescopes, and cosmic serendipity.

The Moon will be very close to Earth, providing a long and intense period of darkness, and the Sun should be more active with the potential for massive explosions of plasma. Then there is the densely populated corridor It extends from Mexico to the United States to Canada.

Hundreds if not thousands of tens of millions of spectators will double as “citizen scientists,” helping NASA and other research groups better understand our planet and our star.

They will image the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, as the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, blocking sunlight for up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds on April 8. Calm birds and other animals As midday darkness falls. They will also measure low temperatures, monitor clouds, and use radios to measure communications outages.

Meanwhile, rockets will launch with scientific instruments into the electrically charged part of the atmosphere near the edge of space known as the ionosphere. The small rockets will launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, about 400 miles outside of totality, but with 81% of the sun obscured in partial eclipse. Similar launches were conducted from New Mexico during the “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse last October, which swept across the western United States and Central and South America.

“It's time for the big event! It's so exciting!!! Missile mission manager Aroh Barjatya, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said in an email.

NASA planes will also soar high into the air again, chasing the moon's shadow with improved telescopes to study the sun's corona and the dust surrounding it.

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“The dust looks boring,” admitted Kelly Couric, NASA's eclipse program manager. “But at the same time, the dust is really interesting. This is the leftover remains from when the solar system formed.

College students will launch more than 600 weather balloons along the route, providing a live broadcast while studying weather changes. Overcast skies shouldn't matter.

“Lucky for us, balloons flying at 80,000 feet and above don't care if it's cloudy on the ground,” said Angela Des Jardins, an astrophysicist at Montana State University who is coordinating the nationwide project.

If approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, a 21-foot (6.5-meter) kite would lift a scientific instrument three miles (5 kilometers) over Texas in an experiment conducted by Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii. She also wants to get past any clouds that might hinder her observation of the sun.

The corona is usually hidden by the sun's glare, and is on full display during a total solar eclipse, making it a prime research target. The spiky tendrils spitting thousands of miles (kilometres) into space are bafflingly hotter than the surface of the sun — by millions of degrees, versus thousands.

“As far as the value of a total eclipse, science still can't explain how the corona heated up to these extreme temperatures,” said retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, known as Mr. Eclipse for all his charts and books on the subject.

The United States won't see another total solar eclipse of this size until 2045, so NASA and everyone else is doing their best.

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The April eclipse will begin in the Pacific Ocean, make landfall in Mazatlan, Mexico, and head through Texas and 14 other US states before crossing into Canada and emerging into the Atlantic Ocean at Newfoundland. Those outside the 115-mile (185-kilometer) wide path will experience a partial eclipse.

Scientists got an idea of ​​what will happen during the 2017 total solar eclipse that spanned from Oregon to South Carolina. This time, the Moon is closer to Earth, resulting in more dark minutes and a wider path.

“Any time we can observe for a longer period of time, it gives scientists more data,” Couric said.

Another scientific advantage this time is that the Sun will be only one year away from the maximum of its solar activity, unlike 2017 when it was close to the minimum. This means more motion at the Sun, and perhaps even a coronal mass ejection during the eclipse, with massive amounts of plasma and magnetic field being released into space.

In addition, there are two new spacecraft studying the Sun: NASA's Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency's Parker Solar Orbiter. They will join other spacecraft on the eclipse mission, including the International Space Station and its astronauts.

Close to Earth, the April eclipse, unlike its predecessors, will pass over three American radar sites usually used to monitor space weather. The stations will tune in to what is happening in the upper atmosphere as the sky darkens.

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