Preparing for the August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

During a total eclipse, we have the rare opportunity to look directly at the sun’s vast, striking outer atmosphere, the corona. The corona appears as pearly white rays and streamers, radiating around the lunar disk. The August 2017 eclipse will present this exciting opportunity to millions across the entire country.

But total solar eclipses are more than simply beautiful to look at. They provide unique opportunities for science – and many kinds of science at that. Indeed, total eclipses throughout history have paved the way for major scientific findings across various disciplines.

“Ancient people in different civilizations were able to discern celestial patterns and predict eclipses without understanding the science,” said Ramon Lopez, a space physicist at the University of Texas Arlington.

Lopez went on to describe landmarks in the history of eclipse science, such as the expedition to confirm the theory of general relativity, the first report of coronal mass ejections and the discovery that the corona is very hot – much hotter than the surface of the sun.

Illustration of 2017 solar eclipse’s apparent path across the continental United States.
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Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

“An eclipse teaches us so many things, but the 2017 eclipse is especially unique because of the uninterrupted land masses it will pass over,” said Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will allow us to maximize our chance to collect data and connect the shadow of the moon to Earth science.”Guhathakurta described a variety of topics that NASA-funded eclipse projects may explore, including the varying luminosity of the sun and the relationship between surface temperatures and atmospheric changes.

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