Vikas Nath


predicted shape of Solar Corona
Predicted Shape of Solar Corona: Field lines of a solar coronal magnetic model based on measurements from the National Solar Observatory Integrated Synoptic Program (NSO/NISP) one solar rotation or 27.2753 Earth days, before the August 21, 2017,total solar eclipse

Earth is a solar-powered planet. All its systems – atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, pedosphere, biosphere are influenced by the Sun. Thus any change in the light coming from the sun will produce effects on the Earth which can be measured by scientists as well as citizens.

On August 21, 2017, the Earth will cross the shadow of the moon and for a brief moment, those in the path of the shadow will see the sun disappear in the morning – creating a total solar eclipse. For the first time in almost 40 years, the path of the moon’s shadow passes through the continental United States, and millions of people will be watching it. It is always exciting to see the human race getting excited about astronomical phenomena such as a Solar Eclipse!

While total solar eclipses are awe-inspiring events, they are also an opportunity to undertake scientific experiments and take measurements. And hundreds of such experiments will be performed – preparations of some of which have been happening years in advance. And the best part of it – anyone can become a citizen scientist during the solar ecliplse, whether you are in the path of totality or outside!

Following are some of the experiments which will be conducted in the United States and globally during the solar eclipse. These could be an inspiration to do some experiments of your own!

1. Solar Eclipse QSO Party (SEQP) to study Ionospheric Changes 

The Solar Eclipse QSO Party (SEQP) is a HamSCI-ARRL sponsored operating event to generate data to study ionospheric changes during the eclipse.

Although the ionospheric effects of solar eclipses have been studied for over 50 years, many unanswered questions remain. Some include, “How much of the ionosphere is affected by the solar eclipse, and for how long? Why is this the case?

Typical day (red) and night (blue) ionospheric profiles

The objective of SEQP is to flood the airwaves with contacts, all measured by the automated receiver networks of the Reverse Beacon Network, PSKReporter, and WSPRNet. When those observations are combined with the logs from individual stations, the result will be one of the largest ionospheric experiments ever performed. The eclipse won’t just affect the MF (medium frequency) and HF (high frequency) bands, but the VLF (very low frequency) bands, too.

In addition to amateur radio observations, many additional, well-established space physics instruments will be used to monitor ionospheric conditions during the 21 August 2017 total solar eclipse. These include measurements by the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN), Global Positioning System Total Electron Content (GPS-TEC) receivers, ionosondes, and more. Each of these instrument networks senses the ionosphere in a different way and in different locations. Combining the data from these networks together will allow for the most complete characterization of the ionospheric response to the eclipse as possible.


2. Eclipse Mob

Illustration by Marcia Staimer/George Mason University

The effect of the Solar Eclipse was first collected by William Henry Eccles on April 17, 1912 using a transmitter of approximately 54.545kHz frequency and a wavelength of 5,500 meters. It was collected later for the same eclipse in France and Denmark using the transmitter at the Eiffel Tower, Paris. The transmitter had a frequency of 115kHz. EclipseMob aims to solve the problem highlighted in these first studies.

The crowdsourcing effort, EclipseMob, is collecting two radio wave signals from the Solar Eclipse that will be occurring on August 21st, 2017. One of these signals will be transmitted from the WWVB radio station in Colorado and one from the Navy transmitter in central California to study the effect of sunlight on the ionosphere.

The path of radio waves from transmitting to destination

Crowdsourcing makes it possible to collect radio wave signals at locations all over the United States so that it can be studied how the signals are affected as they travel along different paths. Disturbances in the ionosphere can cause further issues with communication around the globe. This can cause possible disruption to GPS signals and emergency communications that utilize the ionosphere when cell towers are down during instances such as hurricanes or other natural disasters.


3. Using Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite (DSCOVR) to Help Understand Earth’s Energy System

DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) will capture images similar to this one from the Lagrange 1 point, about a million miles away from Earth.
Credits: NASA/Katy Mersmann

Earth’s energy system is in a constant dance to maintain a balance between incoming radiation from the sun and outgoing radiation from Earth to space – called the Earth’s energy budget. The role of clouds, both thick and thin, is important in their effect on energy balance.

Like a giant cloud, the moon during the August 2017 total solar eclipse will cast a large shadow across a swath of the United States. As the dimensions and light-blocking properties of the moon are known, ground and space instruments will be used to learn how this large shadow affects the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface, especially around the edges of the shadow.

In particular, scientists will use the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite (DSCOVR), along with measurements taken from within the moon’s shadow on the ground, to test a new model of Earth’s energy budget.

A ground-based, NASA-developed Pandora Spectrometer Instrument will provide information on how much of any given wavelength of light is present, and a pyranometer will measure total solar energy from all directions coming down toward the surface. Immediately before and after the eclipse scientists will measure other information such as the amount of absorbing trace gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and small aerosol particles to also use in the 3-D model.

4. Eclipse Balloons to Study Effect of Mars-Like Environment on Life

Dog Tag for Mars-like experiment.jpg
Metal card used to transport bacteria.
Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Tristan Caro

A research group at NASA’s Ames Research Center will conduct a low-cost experiment on 34 of the balloons called MicroStrat, to simulate life’s ability to survive beyond Earth – and maybe even on Mars.

Mars’ atmosphere at the surface is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s, with cooler temperatures and more radiation. Under normal conditions, the upper portion of Earth’s stratosphere is similar to Martian conditions, with its cold, thin atmosphere and exposure to radiation, due to its location above most of Earth’s protective ozone layer.

The Montana Space Grant BOREALIS team prepares to launch their t-minus 1 year practice balloon on August 21st, 2017.

During the solar eclipse, the condition of the stratosphere will be even more Mars-like than usual. The Moon will buffer the full blast of radiation and heat from the Sun, blocking certain ultraviolet rays that are less abundant in the Martian atmosphere and bringing the temperature down even further. There will be student teams flying balloon payloads from dozens of points along the path of totality, the effects on microorganisms that are coming along for the ride will be studied.

NASA will provide each team with two small metal cards, each the size of a dog tag. The cards have harmless, yet environmentally- resilient bacteria dried onto their surface. One card will fly up with the balloon while the other remains on the ground. A comparison of the two will show the consequences of the exposure to Mars-like conditions, such as bacterial survival and any genetic changes. The results of the experiment will improve NASA’s understanding of environmental limits for terrestrial life, in order to inform our search for life on other worlds.


5. NASA’s Eclipse Balloon Project

Ballooning Project Infographic.jpg

Students will conduct high altitude balloon (HAB) flights from about 25 locations across the 8/21/2017 total eclipse path, from Oregon to South Carolina in the United States, sending live video and images from near space to the NASA website.







6.  Chasing the Solar Eclipse to study Sun’s Corona

The Sun’s corona (aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and extends millions of kilometers into space) is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the sun, which is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and scientists don’t fully understand why.

One of NASA’s WB-57F research jets that is sometimes used to chase total solar eclipses. Amir Caspi/SwRI

Corona is difficult to study. It’s dramatically dimmer than our star’s main disk, and instruments in space like NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (which has hardware that’s now more than seven years old) can’t record the phenomenon as well as more recent camera models. So when the moon passes in front of the sun, it will reveal the wispy corona extending millions of miles from the solar surface deep into space — and allow scientists to record the scene with modern gear.

The sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, during a total solar eclipse. M. Druckmüller/NASA

NASA-funded scientists at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, have a clever plan to beat any potential cloudy weather conditions and extend the duration of totality to about seven minutes — nearly triple the time seen on the ground. Part of the team, led by the space scientist Amir Caspi, will fly inside two of NASA’s high-speed “eclipse jets” and chase the shadow as it moves east. Each WB-57F research aircraft, as eclipse jets are officially called, will take off from Ellington Field located near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Once they reach about 50,000 feet, they’ll make their way to Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee as they chase the umbra. Each aircraft has a suite of sensitive instruments mounted on its nose. One is a pair of telescopes, which the institute’s researchers will point at the sun to record what may be the clearest photos of the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere.  Caspi and his team will mainly be looking for a rarely seen, high-speed phenomenon called Alfvén waves. Such waves were discovered in 2007 and may be the key to shuttling heat from the sun’s surface to its corona.


7.  Solar Eclipse Globe Observer App 

globelogoNASA has a released an app, called GLOBE Observer to collect weather and environmental data during the eclipse. As NASA can’t be everywhere it is relying on as many people as possible to help out.

Citizen scientists would download the app and record any environmental changes they see. In particular, NASA is interested in data on cloud cover and temperature. Clouds play an important role in the Earth’s energy budget and the climate system. They help us understand how climate is changing now and how it’s going to change in the future. Depending on the characteristics of clouds – their type, altitude, the size of droplets — they reflect sunlight back to space or trap heat coming from the Earth’s surface in the atmosphere.

Citizen scientists would record what the temperature is and how cloudy the sky is. The measurements will be combined with satellite data to create a complete picture of eclipse-induced weather changes. These records, collected from people all over the country, will help scientists understand more about how eclipses affect our weather and climate.


8.  Citizen CATE/ Know Your Sun: Inner Solar Corona 

Location of Citizen CATE Observors

The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) Experiment is a collaborative effort of volunteer members from 27 universities, 22 high schools, 8 informal education groups and 5 national labs. 68 identical telescope and digital camera systems will be distributed along the path of totality for the 2017 total eclipse and will be used to capture high-quality images of the inner solar corona.

Earth-Moon-Incline-694x297 (1)From any one CATE location, the inner corona will be visible for only about two minutes. Citizen CATE will conduct an eclipse “relay race” by having observers spaced along the path so as the shadow passes over the horizon for one observer, another will be ready to start observing. Each site will collect a series of high dynamic range images every 2.1 seconds (so approximately 60 HDR images per site), with exposure times varying from 0.4 msec to 1.3 sec per image. Combining all the images from the CATE network will result in a coordinated, calibrated data set spanning 93 minutes of totality.

CATE data will sample the region of the solar atmosphere from 1.0 to about 2 solar radii (i.e. from the solar surface to 864,000 miles above the surface) in visible, or white light in the range from 480-680nm (red/yellow/green part of the spectrum). That part of the atmosphere continues to evade solar scientists as it is inherently difficult to observe. With the HDR images down to the solar surface, Citizen CATE’s students and scientists will be seeking to observe the highly dynamic processes that occur in the corona, including the acceleration of the solar wind – the ubiquitous flow of particles that stream out from the sun into the solar system. The solar wind accelerates from 1 to 150 km/s in the CATE field of view, but little is known why.


9. Eclipse Megamovie 2017

meagmovieThe Eclipse Megamovie Project will gather images of the 2017 total solar eclipse from over 1,000 volunteer photographers and amateur astronomers, as well as many more members of the general public. By stitching together thousands of images taken along the path of the 2017 total solar eclipse, we will have a unique treasure-trove of information on how the corona changes over time. Furthermore, there will be an opportunity to repeat this experiment when another total eclipse crosses the U.S. in 2024. This will show how the Sun changes over a few hours, but also how it’s different after a period of seven years.


10.  Explore the Shadow Bands

inaturalistJust before and after the totality, people have noticed thin wavy lines of alternating light and dark, flickering on light, solid colored surfaces. This phenomenon of bands of shadow racing across the landscape is not very well understood and more observations are needed to solve this mystery.

Could these be caused by rising and falling air between the observer and the upper atmosphere? Turbulent cells of air which act as lenses, focusing and de-focusing the edge of light just before totality, similar to makes stars twinkle.

Citizen scientists can put a pure white surface such as a sheet or poster board. Lay a ruler on the board for scale. Shoot a minute or so of video before and after totality or take a series of images. Share your findings on social media with #ShadowBands and #Eclipse2017


11. Life Responds

How does life respond to the dramatic event of a total solar eclipse?

There is some evidence that plant and animal life react to the environmental changes that occur during a total solar eclipse. As the sky darkens and the temperature drops, birds reportedly stop singing, spiders may tear down their webs, and gray squirrels retreat to their dens, among other observed behaviors. Much of these reports, however, are anecdotal or documented with captive animals.

The California Academy of Sciences invites citizen scientists like you to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to record eclipse-related animal behavior.

Report your observations by download the iNaturalist app and making an account.


12. Eclipse Edge Determination Experiment

On August 21, 2017 a total eclipse of the Sun will occur over the continental United States caused by the Moon passing between Earth and Sun where the Moon’s shadow is cast upon the Earth. This will offer a unique opportunity for schools located near the edges of the eclipse path to participate in an experiment to determine one of the two “true” edges of the zone of totality and potentially updating the diameter of the Sun if successful measurements are made at the opposing edge about 130 mi/ 209km north of Minden, NE.

This citizen science effort is intended to help determine the accuracy of eclipse path prediction as well as to contribute to long term study to determine changes in the size of the Sun.


Informative Links

NASA Total Solar Eclipse

Do It Yourself Relativity Test

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