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.
Other voices in the conversation:
- James Klimchuk, astrophysicist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Why is the solar corona so hot?
- Madhulika Guhathakurta, astrophysicist, NASA Ames Research Center: The Sun reveals our connection to the cosmos
- Douglas Drob and Joseph Huba, physicists, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory: The eclipse can tell us a lot about Earth's atmosphere