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HomeScienceInnovative NASA Experiment to Fly Kite to Observe Clouds During the Eclipse

Innovative NASA Experiment to Fly Kite to Observe Clouds During the Eclipse


A total solar eclipse is the only time you can see the ghostly white solar corona (the sun’s outer atmosphere) with your own eyes, and the only time we can view the innermost part of the corona. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Geminiani

Imagine that you traveled thousands of miles to see a total solar eclipse, but as the moon began to move in front of the sun, the sky became cloudy, blocking your view of the unique celestial spectacle.

That’s what happened to University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal — multiple times.

After traveling all the way to Antarctica on its latest mission to study the inner part of the sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — Hablep was met with clouds again. “The sky was all gray,” Habbal recalls.

Now, as Hable prepares to observe a total solar eclipse from Australia’s western tip this week, she has a plan to try to combat any clouds that might interfere with her next opportunity to conduct her investigation.

“Why don’t we fly a kite?” A collaborator proposed to Sling after observing the eclipse in Antarctica was aborted.

So on April 20, a team led by ropes will use a large kite to lift its scientific instruments 3,500 feet (or 1 kilometer) over the Australian landscape.

Funded by NASA, the experiment will launch a spectrometer called ALIMAS (Advanced Low Intensity Multiplexed Astronomy Spectrometer). Spectrometers can separate light into component wavelengths, revealing details such as elemental composition, temperature, and motion.

With this information, Habbal hopes to better understand how charged particles — namely, electrons, protons and other heavy elements — escape from the sun through the corona to create the solar wind, the ever-flowing stream that fills the solar system. Most of the action takes place near the Sun, in the inner part of the corona, which we can only see briefly during a total solar eclipse. (Coronagraphs – often used in solar observatories to simulate a total eclipse by blocking the Sun with an artificial disk – to cover the innermost part of the corona).

clouds for your eclipse?  NASA experiment will fly a kite to soar above

This kite in the shape of a cody box will fly a NASA-funded science instrument to study the total solar eclipse in Australia on April 20, 2023. Standing next to the kite is team member Benedict Justin, who suggested flying the instrument on a kite and designed the device that would allow the airborne instrument to track the sun Eclipse during totality. Credit: Clemens Brauman and Benedict Justin

Habbal is also trying to learn more about the origins of features that appear in the inner halo, such as towers of plasma called prominences and explosive eruptions called coronal mass ejections, which blast solar material into the solar system.

The kite that will carry the spectrometer is known as a box-type Cody kite, which means that it is box-shaped and has wings. It has a wingspan of about 21 feet (6.5 m). When it reaches its zenith in the sky, it will appear about the same size as a large passenger plane flying overhead and will not block the view of the eclipse to anyone on Earth. The kite and spectrometer will be launched on a kilometer-long rope attached to a towbar on a vehicle. Should the rope break, a parachute attached to the spectrometer will return the instrument safely to the ground.

Even if there were no clouds in the sky during the eclipse, Habbal’s team plans to perform the experiment on the kite as a proof-of-tech to see if observations based on kites can work for future eclipses. If the experiment is successful, Habbal hopes to fly again in the United States during the total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024, but higher (up to 4 km) and for a longer period of time.

“The eclipse in Australia is only a minute long, while the US eclipse will be longer — more than four minutes in many places,” Habbal said.

If successful, it would be the first time a NASA heliophysics experiment has been performed on a kite.

“We haven’t done that yet — we used a kite to physics the sun,” said Madhulika Guathakurta, a NASA scientist who leads the agency’s Heliophysics in Innovation in Technology and Science (HITS) program, which provided funding for a sling experiment. “In the future we could use this platform for different types of new investigations.”

“I think this is the beginning of a great opportunity,” Habbal added.

To watch this solar eclipse and learn more about the kite experience, tune in NASA Science Live at 10:30 p.m. EST on April 19, who will broadcast the eclipse live and discuss the kite experience in Australia.

Courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

the quote: clouds for your eclipse? The NASA Experiment Will Fly an Altitude Kite Over (2023, April 19) Retrieved April 19, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-clouds-eclipse-nasa-fly-kite.html

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