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Eclipse chasers: Why NASA jets will pursue solar totality

By Obomate Briggs

Solar scientists have been preparing for years for a 4-minute window, during the total solar eclipse on 8 April, in which they will study the sun’s corona. Expectations are sky high for this total solar eclipse because totality – when the sun is entirely covered – will last up to 4 minutes and 27 seconds – the longest such period on land for over a decade.

To capture this rare event, two of NASA’s WB-57 jet planes, equipped with special instruments, will follow each other at 740 kilometres per hour, about a quarter of the speed of the moon’s shadow, just south-west of the maximum point of the eclipse. At that speed, totality increases from the 4 minutes 27 seconds for those viewing it from the ground to over 6 minutes.

Amir Caspi at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is in charge of an onboatd experiment to study the corona using a stabilised platform to capture images of the eclipse using both a visible-light camera and a higher-resolution mid-infrared camera developed by NASA. The latter will capture seven different wavelengths of light and help determine which structures in the corona emit their own light and which merely scatter light from the sun’s surface.

Read more: Solar eclipse 2024


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