On Monday (8/21) a large portion of the nation got to experience a total solar eclipse! While all those people with eclipse glasses were looking up at the sun, scientists were studying some pretty awesome things too! Why was Monday's eclipse so important? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
A thin 70 mile band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina made some huge news yesterday because of the total solar eclipse! The rest of the nation, including here in central Virginia, saw it as a partial eclipse and it basically took over the news all around the country for the whole day. Even the President took a few minutes to don a pair of eclipse glasses. After all, this celestial event was huge! The eclipse was cause for a lot of cheer and excitement among astronomy fans around the nation, but scientists were even more excited to have a chance to get as much equipment pointed at the sky and our atmosphere.
Photos of totality, partial eclipses, and the crescent shaped shadows from leaves filled the internet as Americans put down what they were doing and spaced out for this rare celestial occurrence. Scientists too were capturing a lot of data. So, what are scientists hoping to learn from studying this eclipse?
There are still many aspects of the sun and moon that remain unstudied, but with the millions upon millions of photos and videos taken on Monday, scientists are hoping to get more information to better understand our celestial neighborhood. As of now, scientists still don't know why the corona, the atmosphere of the sun, is drastically hotter than the surface of the sun. Our own atmosphere was studied during the eclipse as well. Climate and atmosphere studies were conducted using crowd sourced science with the help of new apps. EclipseMob, the largest project of its kind, is a great example of how using various eclipse watchers from around the nation helps scientists pin point measurements from around the country thanks to the observer’s smartphone! Even the moon’s orbital velocity was studied in more detail thanks to the data collected on Monday. Now, we have to wait for them to crunch all the data and publish the results of what work can now get underway.
Keep in mind that an eclipse of some capacity happens about every 18 months, but since so much of the Earth’s surface is ocean, we don’t get to study eclipses in such detail often. Monday’s eclipse stretched alone the United States for about 90 minutes giving scientists an unprecedented opportunity to point their equipment up to the skies.
The next total eclipse will take place in April of 2024 going from Texas to New England. What about central Virginians and our chance to see a total solar eclipse? That will require a little patience. We'll have a total solar eclipse in our neck of the woods in the year 2099. Yet another great reason to eat your veggies!