NASA to Chase the August Solar Eclipse With Two Planes

On August 21st, when the solar eclipse will take place, NASA will take a closer look using a pair of WB-57F jet planes

The planes will carry telescopes that will capture the clearest view ever seen of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, which is knows as the corona. Even more than that, the jet planes will be able to capture thermal images of Mercury, which is going to be a first. The images will help us learn more about the varying temperatures on the planet’s surface.

“These could well turn out to be the best ever observations of high-frequency phenomena in the corona. Extending the observing time and going to very high altitude might allow us to see a few events or track waves that would be essentially invisible in just two minutes of observations from the ground.” said Dan Seaton, co-investigator of the project

For the entire seven minutes, the planes will experience the eclipse. For viewers on the ground, the eclipse will barely last for two and a half minutes. The jets will capture 30 HD pictures of the corona each second. This is one of the 11 NASA-funded projects that will take place in the US during the eclipse.

As for the grand take off, the planes will leave from Houston’s Ellington Field and will fly over Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee, as NASA announced. They will fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet, where the sky is 20 to 30 times darker than what we see from the ground. More than that, there’s less turbulence which will allow the telescopes to capture high quality images.

“When the moon blocks out the sun during a total eclipse, those regions of Earth that are in the direct path of totality become dark as night for almost three minutes. 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.” Steve Clarke, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C.