Tue. May 21st, 2024


On April 8th, 2024, the Moon will move in front of the Sun, and some 32 million people in North America will be treated to one of the most spectacular astronomical events there is. However, even if you don’t live in the path of the totality, you can still take part.



How Can You View the Eclipse Online?

There are going to be countless live streams of the eclipse. Here are a few we think are worth checking out.

NASA’s Eclipse Stream

One of the best ways to view the eclipse online will be NASA’s live stream on YouTube. It goes live at 1 P.M. Eastern Time and will run for about four hours.

They’ll be streaming video from multiple telescopes in the path of the totality, and they’ll also be showing off a few experiments they’re running during the eclipse.

The National Science Foundation’s Live Stream

The National Science Foundation will have a live stream on YouTube, too. Their stream will be based on a telescope located in Texas and will also feature commentary and information from experts.

Timeanddate’s Live Stream

Timeanddate.com will be hosting a live stream on YouTube, too. Their website is also loaded with interesting and helpful information about the eclipse.


Got Clouds? Check Out the Eclipse Anyway

The forecast for much of North America in the path of the totality is looking cloudy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get outside to enjoy it if you can.

Even if it is completely overcast, a total eclipse produces a darkness very similar to twilight that is well worth experiencing.

Partial Eclipses Are Cool Too

If you’re close enough to experience a partial solar eclipse, there are still plenty of reasons to get excited.

Partial eclipses produce all sorts of interesting effects that you don’t get to see every day:

  • Crescent Shadows: During an eclipse, light from the sun that passes through small holes (like the leaves on a tree) will project a crescent shadow. If you don’t have leaves on your trees yet, punch small, regularly-shaped holes in a piece of paper, and take a look at the shadows. You don’t need anything special for this—just use a pencil or pen.
  • Shadow Bands: Shadow bands are elongated rippling shadows that appear on the ground during an eclipse. They waver and move, much like water or fire. They’re typically seen in the minutes leading up to and following a total solar eclipse. However, if you’re just outside the path of totality, you’ll probably be able to see them too. Try laying a white sheet flat on the ground. It may make them easier to see.
  • Strange Colors: Between your brain struggling to make sense of what it is seeing, and actual changes to the light reaching you, colors often look strange. Take a moment to look around you when the eclipse is near totality.


What Experiments Is NASA Running During the Eclipse, and Why?

A total eclipse is a rare event, and NASA isn’t letting it go to waste. There are several experiments aimed at studying the ionosphere—a region of the atmosphere that begins about 50 miles above the surface of the planet and extends out several hundred miles.

The ionosphere is quite different from the part of the atmosphere we live in. Intense ultraviolet and x-ray radiation from the sun tear apart the atoms and molecules in the ionosphere, creating a layer of electrically charged particles that can change or even reflect radio waves.

Many of our satellites orbit within the ionosphere (including the International Space Station and Starlink satellites), and every satellite must beam radio waves through the ionosphere in order to relay information back to us on Earth. That means conditions in the ionosphere can affect technology we rely on every single day, including GPS, weather and Earth-imaging satellites, and telecommunications satellites.


Because the ionosphere is made up of charged particles, it responds very dramatically to changing space weather, like coronal mass emissions or solar flares, and an eclipse presents an interesting opportunity to study how it responds to rapidly changing conditions.

NASA Is Launching Rockets Into the Eclipse’s Path

NASA will be launching three rockets from Virginia into the path of the eclipse up into the ionosphere. Each rocket carries multiple scientific instruments designed to measure charged and neutral particles in the ionosphere, as well as electrical and magnetic fields. The first rocket will launch 45 minutes before totality, the second rocket will be launched to take measurements during totality, and the final rocket will be launched 45 minutes after. Scientists plan to take three separate measurements to understand exactly how the eclipse changes the conditions in the ionosphere.

If you’re on the Eastern side of the United States, you may even be able to see them. NASA has provided a map that shows which parts of the country may be able to see them.


A map of where the sounding rockets will be visible.
NASA

Planes Will Chase Totality

Two WB-57 Jets will fly along the path of totality to extend the amount of time they spend in the eclipse. They also fly at about 50,000 feet—high enough to avoid troublesome clouds, and the thinner atmosphere lets them get a clearer picture of the sun. Scientists hope to study the dust and asteroids around the Sun, as well as get a look at the corona—the outermost portion of the Sun’s atmosphere.

Of course, there are plenty of ground-based experiments occurring, too. Dozens of teams in North America aim to make the most of this event to study the sun, our own atmosphere, and how the two interact.


Eclipses have a long history in science. Famously, a total eclipse in 1919 was used to prove that the gravity of stars bends light, providing strong evidence for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. While we’re not likely to see anything that far-reaching today, understanding the ionosphere is critical, as it affects many of the technologies we take for granted in our day-to-day lives.



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By John P.

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