A Flurry of Science

“Think about being able to do all these experiments on the ground, from airplanes, from balloons, with citizen scientists. It’s pretty breathtaking,” said Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA. Guhathakurta will shepherd dozens of scientific projects on Aug. 21, including polarized images of the corona, which help scientists measure its temperature; measurements of Earth’s ionosphere — the charged layer of the atmosphere that gives us auroras; spatial disturbances in the atmosphere caused by heat changes; and a whole lot more. (You can get involved, too. With an app called GLOBE Observer and a thermometer, you can collect data during the eclipse and submit it to NASA. And Google and the University of California, Berkeley, are asking for video and images, which they’ll stitch together into an “Eclipse Megamovie.”) Other scientists will be studying animals — creatures as small as grasshoppers and as big as hippos have been documented reacting to eclipses — and us, too. Humans are sure to have a wide range of responses, as we have since time immemorial.

I’ll admit, this comes as a bit of a shock to me. I thought that coronagraphs permitted really good science provided a scientist could grab some funding. Not so, though.

… coronagraphs usually block more of the sun than astronomers would like. Typically, a coronagraph covers an area around 1.4 times the radius of the sun, obscuring arguably the most important region — the one closest to the sun’s surface.

“That is sort of the missing link, the region where space weather is formed, where the corona gets heated, where the solar wind gets accelerated. … So that’s where we want observations to be pristine,” Guhathakurta said.

Which means that my US readers have an excellent opportunity to do some citizen science in exactly three weeks (well, 21 days and 11 minutes from when I post this). In addition to the above links, Space.com has a good rundown of how to safely observe the eclipse and NASA has tonnes more charts and info.

And remember, a solar eclipse was once considered a bad omen for a king or ruler.