Scientists and amateurs prepare to shoot the solar eclipse

Maria Cristina Lalonde
Maria Cristina Lalonde
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Is the sun getting bigger or smaller?

Why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter that its surface?

How does the sun’s atmosphere affect our electronics, power grids, radio signals, and communications?

These are all questions scientists hope to resolve with observations from the upcoming solar eclipse. During the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, researchers expect to unveil many of space’s secrets.

Scientists and amateurs prepare to shoot the solar eclipse

On August 21, the total eclipse of the sun will be visible across the U.S. for the first time in almost a century. For mere minutes, scientists will be given glimpses of the sun and its properties that have never been seen before. As the day approaches, astronomers, scholars, and other scientists scurry to prepare to capture and analyze the momentous event.

They’re not alone. Millions of civilians, including amateur astronomers, photographers, and students, are expected to get involved in conducting observations of the eclipse. Here are just a few of the scientist and volunteer collaborations underway:

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Study. Scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are gathering a fleet of 11 orbiting satellites, 50 high-altitude balloons, and thousands of telescopes to harvest data and images. The researchers will be aided by teams of amateur astronomers armed with telescopes and smartphone cameras.

NASA’s Eclipse Ballooning Project. Students will launch high-altitude balloons from 25 sites around the U.S. as part of Nasa’s Eclipse Ballooning Project. The balloons will transmit live footage available for streaming, and gather data on other effects.

Montana State University Eclipse Ballooning Project. In participation with the Montana State University Eclipse Ballooning Project, students and amateur astronomers around the U.S. will capture and live-stream video of the eclipse.

Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment. Volunteer astronomers will gather images using 68 telescopes along the path of the eclipse from coast to coast. Astronomers at the National Solar Observatory in Tucson will combine these images into a 90-minute video of the eclipse’s path.

Eclipse Megamovie Project. Helmed by researchers from U.C. Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory and Google’s Making & Science initiative, the Eclipse Megamovie Project aims to capture how the sun’s atmosphere changes over time. 1,0000 of volunteers will collect images of the eclipse, which researchers will weave into a video that both scientists and the general public can access.

Do-It-Yourself Relativity Project. This project seeks to copy and confirm Einstein’s relativity theory, which was first tested during an eclipse more than a century ago. To do so, amateur astronomers will record how the sun’s gravitational pull effects the light of nearby stars.

International Occultation Timing Association. With this project, researchers and volunteers will measure the width of the eclipse’s shadow to try and determine the sun’s diameter.

EclipseMob Project. Led by researchers at George Mason University, the Eclipse Mob Project is expected to be the biggest crowdsourced ionosphere experiment ever. Researchers and volunteers will observe a continuous time signal from the National Institute of Standards and Technology radio station WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado, and a time signal from a U.S. Navy transmitter in central California. By analyzing the reception of these two transmissions, researchers hope to see how the ionosphere is affected when the sun is obscured by the moon.