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Expert Voices

Chasing the eclipse with airborne telescopes

Our Expert Voices conversation about the 2017 solar eclipse.

One big question scientists still have about the Sun is why its corona, the outer atmosphere, is so hot — millions of degrees — while the surface below is only thousands! Eclipses provide unique opportunities to get higher quality and speed images than are normally available, either from space or from the ground. During the total eclipse, we're using telescopes mounted on the noses of NASA's WB-57 research jets to observe the solar corona. By observing waves in it and measuring their direction, size, and speed, we hope to better understand how energy is transported up into the corona. With two jets flying at 50,000 feet, we'll get 7-and-a-half minutes of totality compared to only 2-and-a-half on the ground.

What it means: Studying how the corona is formed and how it evolves will lead to better understanding "space weather" hazards like flares and coronal mass ejections that can impact Earth and damage satellites, interrupt GPS and radio, and knock out power grids.