On Friday morning, North Americans are set to experience what “Not available in your country” means, as the Europeans will be able to watch the total eclipse.
The total, 100% eclipse – the sun is completely covered by the moon – will only be visible in the Faroe Islands, located halfway between Iceland and Scotland, and Norway’s Svalbard Islands.
It is not surprising that hordes of people are currently traveling to these remote islands in hopes they will experience the total eclipse. A lot of scientists are doing the pilgrimage as well, and Jay Pasachoff at Williams College is one of them.
Pasachoff said he wouldn’t want to miss on such a unique opportunity to study the sun. However, good weather is a must and the clouds should be absent for people to see the phenomenon. The scientist has traveled to Svalbard on Wednesday and so far, has seen over 60 eclipses in his lifetime.
In an interview with CBS News, Paschoff said that he is completely fascinated with eclipses, as “each one is tremendously exciting”. According to him, nothing compares with being outside and watching the sky turn dark in a matter of minutes in a very dramatic way.
The total eclipse might be a private show, but there are billion people who will be able to catch a glimpse of a partial one, watching the first overlapping of the sun and the moon. Most of northern Africa, parts of Middle East and western Asia are all set for a partial eclipse.
Europe is waiting for a rare show
In Europe however, things are set to take a turn for good, as the entire continent will have the treat of a partial eclipse. The European Space Agency stated that starting from northern Scotland with a 97 percent eclipse and ending in Rome with 56 percent, the entire Europe will be covered in different ranges.
The only viewers from North America that will be lucky enough to see a partial eclipse are those from Saint John’s, Newfoundland. The US will have to wait until August 21, 2017 to see the next total eclipse visible to North Americans.
The most fascinating phenomenon during the total eclipse is seeing a direct view of the sun’s corona (or atmosphere), which is usually outshined by the unbearable brightness of the solar disc. Scientists have a rare opportunity to examine directly the sun’s atmosphere and the interaction between its different layers: the solar corona, the photosphere, and the chromosphere.
Joe Zender is a scientist part of the European Space Agency’s Proba-3 project which is set to launch in 2018. One of the main focuses of the mission is to study the sun’s corona, which is very difficult to observe even from a spacecraft, but more so from the Earth.
Scientists are hoping the collected data will help them understand various phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections. The sun’s corona is projecting huge bubbles of gas which sometimes take Earth’s direction, and this mission might shine some light on the how and why.
Understanding solar ejections effects
This week, a severe solar storm had reached the Earth and proved that effects could be serious. GPS tracking and some power grids were partially disrupted, and the beautiful northern lights had been pushed further south than they ever appeared before.
Scientists were aware that two magnetic bursts of plasma had been spurted from the sun on Sunday, but they hit Earth a few hours earlier than estimated on Tuesday. Pasachoff is on the team that seeks to understand these solar ejections in an attempt to predicting how and when they will hit our planet.
Pasachoff enjoys taking high-resolution photos and then examining the spectrum of the corona, trying to explore whether the sunspot activity is slowly going away, as suggested by some scientists.
The peak of the sunspot cycle has just passed, and the sun’s corona varies from what we could see a couple of eclipses ago at solar maximum. Scientists are also interesting if particular coronal mass ejections could be examined in detail.
Even if the eclipse process usually takes only a few minutes until completion, Pasachoff said the research opportunity is always invaluable. Pasachoff is head of the eclipse team at the International Astronomical Union and he compared being a umbraphile (eclipse lover) to being a heart surgeon for whom two minutes inside a human heart is not enough to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. That’s why each eclipse brings new insight in the amazing phenomenon.
The sun’s atmosphere is also rather uncharted territory, and every few years, scientists get a few glimpses that are thoroughly studied afterwards. And whatever findings come up during such research can be applied to billions of stars that have similar atmospheres, which makes it easier to understand stars that aren’t so easy to study.
Image Source: KQED
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