What do scientists hope to learn from total solar eclipse in US?

Published April 8, 2024
Mazatlan (Mexico): A woman demonstrates how to use special protective glasses to observe the solar eclipse two days ahead of a total solar eclipse.—Reuters
Mazatlan (Mexico): A woman demonstrates how to use special protective glasses to observe the solar eclipse two days ahead of a total solar eclipse.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: When a rare total solar eclipse sweeps across North America on Monday, scientists will be able to gather invaluable data on everything from the Sun’s atmosphere to strange animal behaviors — and even possible effects on humans.

It comes with the Sun near the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, setting the stage for a breathtaking display: The corona will glow spectacularly from the Moon’s silhouette along the path of totality, a corridor stretching from Mexico to Canada via the United States.

Total solar eclipses offer “incredible scientific opportunities,” Nasa Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy told a press conference this week about the celestial event.

The US space agency is one of the institutions at the ready for the eclipse, with plans to launch so-called “sounding rockets” to study the effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere.

When the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun and blocks it, the elusive outermost edge of the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona, will be visible “in a very special way,” Melroy said. “Things are happening with the corona that we don’t fully understand,” she said.

The heat within the corona intensifies with distance from the Sun’s surface — a counterintuitive phenomenon that scientists struggle to fully comprehend or explain.

Solar flares, a sudden explosion of energy that releases radiation into space, take place in the corona as do solar prominences, enormous plasma formations that loop out from the Sun’s surface.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2024

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