2024 Total Solar Eclipse: HSFL Support of Dr. Shadia Habbal Solar Corona Research

Albany Coate/ April 6, 2024/ 2024, 2024 Eclipse, News/ 0 comments

On Monday, April 8th, a total solar eclipse will make its way northeast across the continental United States, becoming visible in the path of totality for several states. At the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy, Dr. Shadia Habbal and her team of researchers, the “Solar Wind Sherpas”, will be conducting observations and research of this eclipse corona from locations in Texas, Arkansas, and Mexico. Dr. Habbal and her team have traveled to locations ideal for observing total solar eclipses for decades, chasing these incredible events in pursuit of gathering data about the corona and its temperature.

HSFL has been supporting Dr. Habbal and her team in their incredible research, titled “Airborne Imaging and Spectroscopic Observations of the Corona,” which will be flown on NASA’s WB-57 aircraft, following in the path of April 8th’s total solar eclipse. Dr. Habbal and her team will be spread out across the path of totality, observing the eclipse and collecting data from several locations.

What will this research lead to?

The April 8 total solar eclipse offers an excellent scientific opportunity for exploiting ground-based and airborne platforms for observing the Sun’s corona, which is the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The Corona becomes visible during total solar eclipses as a white crown surrounding the Sun, as shown in the picture below.

Credit: UH Institute for Astronomy

Decades of total solar eclipse observations in the visible and near IR (VIS+NIR) have yielded key coronal plasma parameters over a spatial span of at least 3 radii of the solar surface. This is the critical coronal space where the evolution of magnetic fields and plasmas occur in space and time. This is a primary interest of the experiment.

What is the goal of this project?

The objective of this project is to capitalize on the operation of wide-field imagers and imaging spectrometers to be flown onboard NASA’s WB-57 research aircraft, observing the total solar eclipse corona from the sky, while simultaneously gathering coronal temperature data to be studied by Dr. Habbal and her team following the event.

NASA WB-57 Aircraft

What is HSFL’s role in this research?

HSFL has been supporting the design of the imagers and spectrometer instruments since August 2023. The instruments include two gimbaled imagers located in the spear pods of the WB-57 and two spectrometers inside the nose cone of the aircraft. These instruments will aid in further observation of the corona.

From left, Matthias Justen, Benedict Justen, Oliver Mayer, and Miguel Nunes pose with one of the imagers now in the WB-57 spear pods.

We also supported Dr. Habbal and her team of researchers and engineers internationally, in mechanical design with finite element analysis, electrical design with electrical schematics and reviews, critical design review, and operations support. A significant effort went into the integration of the instruments and preparing the payload data packages for the instruments to be approved by NASA for the flight airworthiness review.

Imagers located inside the spear pods.

Spectrometer instruments are configured inside of the WB-57 nose cone.

How will NASA’s WB-57 aircraft assist in this research?

The WB-57 will fly at an altitude of 50,000 ft above the clouds during the eclipse, providing an unobstructed view of the eclipse and the corona. The aircraft will have cameras and spectrometers attached to various parts of the aircraft to study the corona and its temperature and chemical composition. The instruments will also record data on solar winds and coronal mass ejections (explosions of solar material).

NASA WB-57 aircraft on the tarmac.

Using the WB-57 to follow the eclipse path, Dr. Habbal’s team will gain two additional minutes in the Moon’s shadow – leading to more thorough observations and insights about the incredible Corona!

How can the experiment be tracked from Hawaiʻi?

Members of the HSFL team traveled with Dr. Habbal and her team to Texas this week, working on final integrations of the imagers onto the WB-57 aircraft, in preparation for the eclipse. They will remain there during the eclipse, monitoring the status of the WB-57 flight and ground observations.

A team of representatives from HSFL, NASA, the Institute for Astronomy, and German partners of the project stand in front of the WB-57 aircraft sitting in a hangar.

While the eclipse path of totality will not pass through Hawaiʻi, a partial eclipse may be visible in the early morning, depending on the clarity of viewing. The UH Institute for Astronomy will host a public livestream for viewers to see the partial eclipse unfold at approximately 6:30 am HST. The link for the livestream is listed below.

Using NASA tracking technology, the route of the WB-57 is accessible to view. This eclipse has garnered incredible attention and publicity; photos and updates will come from photographers, researchers, and observers on the continent.

Institute for Astronomy Eclipse Livestream:

IfA Open House 2023 FamilyTalk – Astronomy and the Meaning of Life (youtube.com)

Track WB-57: NASA Airborne Science Program Tracker

Read more about the eclipse and Dr. Habbal’s research here:

UH astronomer leads effort to unlock Sun’s secrets during eclipse | University of Hawaiʻi System News (hawaii.edu)

Why a solar physicist has been chasing solar eclipses for more than three decades – Vox

‘I am stoked’: What it feels like to fly through a solar eclipse (bbc.com)

Solar Eclipse Experiment Will Fly a Kite to Avoid Cloudy Skies | Scientific American

University of Hawaiʻi astronomer to lead study of total solar eclipse | Hawai’i Public Radio (hawaiipublicradio.org)




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