Why NASA's High-Speed Jets Will Chase The Total Solar Eclipse On Monday

The WB-57s can go above cloud cover and atmospheric particles.

NASA is gearing up for a total solar eclipse on Monday (April 8) when the moon’s shadow will fall across a vast stretch of North America. To capture this rare event, two of NASA’s WB-57 jet planes, equipped with special instruments, will be deployed to track the eclipse and study the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. 

Why will NASA chase the solar eclipse?

NASA aims to uncover mysteries surrounding the Sun. They hope to gain insights into the corona’s structure and temperature, understand how the Sun affects our planet’s ionosphere, and even detect hidden asteroids usually obscured by the sun’s glare. 

Bharat Kunduri, lead researcher of the ionosphere measurement and a research assistant professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, said in a statement, “The eclipse basically serves as a controlled experiment. It gives us an opportunity to understand how changes in solar radiation can impact the ionosphere, which can in turn impact some of these technologies like radar and GPS that we rely on in our daily lives.” 

WB-57 jets

The WB-57s can go above cloud cover and atmospheric particles, reaching heights of up to 50,000 feet above the ground, which allows them to capture sharp images in both visible and infrared light. 

The jets will be timed to take off and fly exactly when the eclipse is happening. They will fly with speeds reaching up to 740 km/h, to stretch out the time we can see the eclipse. This way, instead of the usual length of around 4 minutes and 27 seconds, they will extend it by about 25%, giving us roughly 6 minutes and 22 seconds of totality.

Shadia Habbal, a researcher at the University of Hawaii said, “By extending the duration of totality, we’re increasing the duration of how much data we can acquire. This light is our best probe short of sticking a thermometer in the corona.” 

What is totality?

During a total solar eclipse, “totality” refers to the brief period when the moon completely covers the sun, leaving only the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, visible. This creates a dramatic spectacle where the sky darkens significantly and the sun’s corona appears as a glowing halo around the darkened disk of the Moon.

How can we experience totality?

To experience totality, you need to be within the 185 km-16,000 km path of totality, which falls on parts of Mexico, the US, and Canada on April 8, according to Live Science.


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