Eclipse 2017: NASA supports a unique opportunity for science in the shadow

February 3, 2017 by Sarah Frazier, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, stretches across the US from coast to coast, providing scientists with a unique opportunity to study the eclipse from different vantage points. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

The first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in nearly 40 years takes place on Aug. 21, 2017. Beyond providing a brilliant sight in the daytime sky, total solar eclipses provide a rare chance for scientists to collect data only available during eclipses. NASA is funding 11 scientific studies that will take advantage of this opportunity.

"When the moon blocks out the sun during a , those regions of Earth that are in the direct path of totality become dark as night for almost three minutes," said Steve Clarke, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "This will be one of the best-observed eclipses to date, and we plan to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn as much as we can about the sun and its effects on Earth."

The August 2017 will provide a unique opportunity to study Earth, the sun, and their interaction because of the eclipse's long path over land. The path of the total eclipse crosses the U.S. from coast to coast, so scientists will be able to take ground-based observations over a period of more than an hour to complement the wealth of data provided by NASA satellites.

The 11 NASA-funded studies cross a range of disciplines, using the total to observe our sun and Earth, test new instruments, and even leverage the skills of citizen scientists to expand our understanding of the sun-Earth system. The studies are listed below, followed by the name of the principal investigator and their home institution.

Studying the sun

During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun's overwhelmingly bright face, revealing the relatively faint solar atmosphere, called the corona. Scientists can also use an instrument called a coronagraph - which uses a disk to block out the light of the sun - to create an artificial eclipse. However, a phenomenon called diffraction blurs the light near the disk in a coronagraph, making it difficult to get clear pictures of the inner parts of the corona, so total solar eclipses remain the only opportunity to study these regions in clear detail in visible light. In many ways, these inner regions of the corona are the missing link in understanding the sources of space weather - so total solar eclipses are truly invaluable in our quest to understand the sun-Earth connection.

The sun-focused studies are:

  • Exploring the Physics of the Coronal Plasma through Imaging Spectroscopy during the 21 August 2017 Total Solar Eclipse (Shadia Habbal, University of Hawaii)
  • Testing a Polarization Sensor for Measuring Temperature and Flow Speed in the Solar Corona during the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 August 21 (Nat Gopalswamy, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
  • Chasing the 2017 Eclipse: Interdisciplinary Airborne Science from NASA's WB-57 (Amir Caspi, Southwest Research Institute)
  • Measuring the Infrared Solar Corona During the 2017 Eclipse (Paul Bryans, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research)
  • Citizen Science Approach to Measuring the Polarization of Solar Corona During Eclipse 2017 (Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, Space Science Institute)
  • Rosetta-stone experiments at infrared and visible wavelengths during the August 21 2017 Eclipse (Philip Judge, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research)

Studying Earth

Total solar eclipses are also an opportunity to study Earth under uncommon conditions. The sudden blocking of the sun during an eclipse reduces the light and temperature on the ground, and these quick-changing conditions can affect weather, vegetation and animal behavior.

The Earth-focused studies are:

  • Solar eclipse-induced changes in the ionosphere over the continental US (Philip Erickson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Quantifying the contributions of ionization sources on the formation of the D-region ionosphere during the 2017 solar eclipse (Robert Marshall, University of Colorado Boulder)
  • Empirically-Guided Solar Eclipse Modeling Study (Gregory Earle, Virginia Tech)
  • Using the 2017 Eclipse viewed by DSCOVR/EPIC & NISTAR from above and spectral radiance and broadband irradiance instruments from below to perform a 3-D radiative transfer closure experiment (Yiting Wen, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)
  • Land and Atmospheric Responses to the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse (Bohumil Svoma, University of Missouri)

Explore further: NASA moon data provides more accurate 2017 eclipse path

Related Stories

NASA moon data provides more accurate 2017 eclipse path

January 5, 2017

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, millions in the U.S. will have their eyes to the sky as they witness a total solar eclipse. The moon's shadow will race across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. The path of this shadow, ...

SDO witnesses a double eclipse (w/ video)

September 2, 2016

Early in the morning of Sept. 1, 2016, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, caught both Earth and the moon crossing in front of the sun. SDO keeps a constant eye on the sun, but during SDO's semiannual eclipse seasons, ...

NASA's science during the March 2016 total solar eclipse

March 4, 2016

As the moon slowly covers the face of the sun on the morning of March 9, 2016, in Indonesia, a team of NASA scientists will be anxiously awaiting the start of totality – because at that moment, their countdown clock begins. ...

Image: Proba-2 captures partial solar eclipse

September 16, 2015

ESA's Sun-watching Proba-2 satellite experienced three partial solar eclipses on 13 September 2015. On Earth, a single partial eclipse occurred over South Africa, the southern Indian Ocean and Antarctica.

Recommended for you

InSight lander 'hears' Martian winds

December 7, 2018

NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport InSight lander, which touched down on Mars just 10 days ago, has provided the first ever "sounds" of Martian winds on the Red Planet. A ...

An exoplanet loses its atmosphere in the form of a tail

December 6, 2018

A new study led by scientists from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) reveals that the giant exoplanet WASP-69b carries a comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping from its gravitational field and ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NationalEclipseCom
not rated yet Feb 03, 2017
As this great event draws near, the public should keep keep this important safety information in mind: You MUST use special eclipse safety glasses to view a partial eclipse and the partial phases of a total eclipse. To do otherwise is risking permanent eye damage and even blindness. The ONLY time it's safe to look at a TOTAL eclipse without proper eye protection is during the very brief period of totality when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon. If you're in a location where the eclipse won't be total, there is NEVER a time when it's safe to look with unprotected eyes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.