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NASA Scientists Prepare for Solar Eclipse Research on April 8 in the United States

In the United States of America, April 8 is expected to be a very busy day for scientists

Eclipses fuel amazement and bring together many curious people to observe this impressive celestial phenomenon. However, cosmic events like these also allow scientists to uncover mysteries of the solar system.

In Portugal, the solar eclipse on April 8 will be partial, reaching only the Azores. But in places where the solar eclipse will be total, when the moon temporarily blocks the sun for millions of people in Mexico, the United States of America and Canada, several experiments will be underway to better understand some of the unanswered questions about the solar orbit. .

The North American Space Agency (NASA) will launch sounding rockets and WB-57 high-altitude planes to carry out research into the appearance of the Sun and Earth that is only possible during an eclipse. These efforts are part of a long history of attempts to collect invaluable observations and data when the Moon temporarily blocks the Sun’s light.

Each NASA WB-57 high-altitude plane is flown by a single pilot, while an instrument specialist sits in the back seat. (Bill Stafford/NASA)

One of the most famous scientific milestones linked to an eclipse occurred on May 29, 1919, when a total solar eclipse provided evidence for Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which the scientist first described systemically in 1916, according to NASA

Einstein suggested that gravity is the result of the warping of time and space, distorting the very structure of the universe. As an example, Einstein proposed that the gravitational influence of a large object like the Sun could deflect the light emitted by another object, such as a star virtually behind it. This would make the object appear slightly more distant from Earth’s perspective. A scientific expedition to observe stars in Brazil and West Africa, led by English astronomer Arthur Eddington during the 1919 eclipse, revealed that some stars did indeed appear to be in the wrong place, validating Einstein’s theory.

This discovery is just one of many scientific lessons learned in the context of eclipses.

During the 2017 eclipse that crossed the US, NASA and other space agencies carried out observations using 11 different spacecraft and two high-altitude planes.

Data collected during this eclipse helped scientists accurately predict what the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, would look like during the 2019 and 2021 eclipses. Despite the scorching temperatures, the corona has a weaker appearance than the bright surface of the Sun, but appears as a halo around the Sun during an eclipse, when most of the Sun’s light is blocked by the Moon, making it easier to study this star.

Why is the corona millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun? This is one of the most challenging mysteries about our star. A 2021 study revealed some clues, showing that the corona maintains a constant temperature despite the Sun going through 11-year cycles of decreasing and increasing activity. These discoveries were made possible by more than a decade of eclipse observations, according to NASA.

The Sun is now reaching its peak of activity, known as solar maximum, this year, providing scientists with a rare opportunity for their research.

And now, during the eclipse on April 8, scientists and researchers will be able to make new discoveries, with the power to advance our understanding of this part of our universe.

Send rockets into an eclipse

Observing the Sun during eclipses also helps scientists better understand how solar material flows. Charged particles, known as plasma, create space weather that interacts with an upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere, called the ionosphere. This region acts as a boundary between Earth’s lower atmosphere and space.

Three sounding rockets will be launched by NASA from the Wallops Flight Facility on April 8 to study the eclipse (Allison Stancil/NASA)

The energetic activity released by the Sun during solar maximum can interfere with the International Space Station as well as communications infrastructure. Many low Earth orbit satellites and radio waves operate in the ionosphere, which means that dynamic space weather impacts the GPS system and long-distance radio communications.

Experiments to study the ionosphere during the eclipse include high-altitude balloons as well as an invitation to citizens through the participation of amateur radio operators. So, operators at different locations will record the strength of their signals and the distance traveled during the eclipse, to see how changes in the ionosphere affect the signals. The researchers also conducted this experiment during the October 2023 annular eclipse, when the Moon did not completely block the Sun’s light – the data is still being analyzed.

In another experiment, also repeated, three sounding rockets will be launched by NASA at the Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia. They will be launched before, during and after the eclipse, to measure how the sudden disappearance of sunlight impacts Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Aroh Barjatya, a professor of engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, is leading one of the experiments, called Atmospheric Perturbations Around the Path of the Eclipse, which was first performed during October’s annular solar eclipse. .

Each rocket will eject four soda bottle-sized scientific instruments to measure changes in ionospheric temperature, particle density and electric and magnetic fields about 90 to 500 kilometers above the ground.

“Understanding the ionosphere and developing models that help us predict disturbances is critical to ensuring that our world, increasingly dependent on communication, runs smoothly,” Barjatya said in a statement.

The sounding rockets will reach a maximum altitude of 420 kilometers during the flight.

During the 2023 annular eclipse, rocket instruments were able to measure sudden and immediate changes in the ionosphere.

“We saw disturbances capable of affecting radio communications in the second and third rocket, but not during the first rocket, it took place before the peak of the local eclipse,” said Barjatya. “We are very excited to launch them again during the total eclipse, to see if the perturbations start at the same altitude and if their magnitude and scale remain the same.”

Go above the clouds

Three different experiments will be carried out aboard NASA’s high-altitude research aircraft, known as WB-57.

The WB-57s can carry almost 4,082 kilograms of scientific instruments up to 60,000 to 65,000 feet (18,300 to 19,800 meters) above the Earth’s surface, making them a key part of NASA’s Airborne Science Program, explained Peter Layshock, director of by NASA’s WB-57 High Altitude Research Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The WB-57 planes are able to carry instruments above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, reducing turbulence and improving the quality of the images that will be captured during the eclipse. (Amir Caspi/Courtesy NASA)

Among the advantages of using the WB-57 is the fact that the pilot and equipment operator can fly, well above the clouds, for around six and a half hours without needing to refuel, thus covering the entire eclipse route in Mexico and United States of America, which provides a continuous and unobstructed view. The planes’ flight path also means that the instruments will be in the Moon’s shadow for longer than if they were on the ground. Four minutes of totality on the ground equates to about six minutes of totality in the plane, Layshock explained.

One of the experiments will also focus on the ionosphere, using an instrument called an ionosonde, which acts like a radar. This will send out high-frequency radio signals and listen to the echoes as they bounce off the ionosphere, to measure the number of charged particles it contains.

The other two experiments will focus on the crown. One project will use cameras and spectrometers to uncover more details about the temperature and chemical composition of the corona, as well as capture data on large explosions of solar material, known as coronal mass ejections.

The jets have special “noses” to carry specialized scientific instruments. (Amir Caspi/Courtesy NASA)

The other project, led by Amir Caspi, principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, aims to capture images of the eclipse from 15,240 meters above Earth’s surface, in hopes of observing structures and details within the middle and lower corona. . Using high-speed, high-resolution cameras capable of capturing images in infrared light, it will also look for asteroids that orbit below the Sun’s brightness.

“In infrared, we really don’t know what we’re going to see. And that is part of the mystery of these rare observations”, reacted Caspi. “Each eclipse offers us a new opportunity to expand things. You take what you learned from the last eclipse and solve a new piece of the puzzle.”

2024-04-07 16:00:00
#NASA #launching #rockets #solar #eclipse #path

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