Track the annular solar eclipse with NASA's Eclipse Explorer as APEP launches three sounding rockets. A remarkable annular solar eclipse is set to grace the Americas on October 14, offering enthusiasts the opportunity to pinpoint its exact timing using NASA's 2023 Eclipse Explorer as APEP is set to launch three sounding rockets to help understand Earth’s atmospheric dynamics and the effects of the solar phenomena.
This interactive tool provides an intricately detailed map that elucidates the eclipse's visibility parameters, encompassing the path and duration of annularity, which is the region from which the captivating 'ring of fire' phenomenon can be observed. It empowers users to immerse themselves in the eclipse viewing experience like never before.
It also helps to discover precisely when the eclipse will be observable at your specific location, and observe the eclipse's progression over time. The tool allows you to switch between different cities and employ a slider bar to navigate through various stages of the eclipse.
The 2023 Eclipse Explorer, created by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS), boasts an interface organized as a grid of toggle buttons, categorized into the following sections: Shadow components, city labels (or bookmarks), eclipse paths, coverage percentages, and duration intervals. By simply clicking any of these buttons, users can effortlessly make the corresponding data either appear or disappear on the map. According to NASA, the 2023 Eclipse Explorer offers several key features:
- Dynamic Layers: You can toggle various lines on the map, showing the percentage of the sun covered at the eclipse's peak, outlining areas with the longest duration of annularity, and delineating the path and shapes of the antumbra (the darkest shadow part where annularity occurs) and penumbra (the brighter part where a partial eclipse is visible).
- Time Slider: This allows you to move through time and witness the eclipse shadows' motion across the United States on the day of the eclipse.
- City Information: By clicking on city labels, you can access detailed local data, including current weather conditions and a simulated eclipse image specific to that location. Additionally, buttons for different eclipse phases automatically navigate to the corresponding times on the map for each city.
- Countdown Widget: Keep track of the time remaining until the moment of maximum coverage for each city.
- Auto-Play: You have the option to automatically advance through the eclipse timeline at varying speeds. Activating the "follow" toggle button will align the map with the shadow's movement as it traverses the landscape during the eclipse.
The iconic 'ring of fire' will traverse a path through eight U.S. states, stretching from Oregon to Texas, and then proceed over the Gulf of Mexico before passing over Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil.
For those eager to witness this celestial spectacle in person, we offer a range of guides to assist in planning your eclipse-viewing adventure. These guides include valuable tips for trip planning and information on which U.S. states will provide a view of the 'ring of fire.'
Remember, it is absolutely crucial never to gaze directly at the sun during this event. To safely observe the solar eclipse, it is imperative to employ solar filters at all times. Regardless of whether your location will experience a partial or annular solar eclipse, the safety precautions remain the same. Observers must use solar eclipse glasses, and any equipment such as cameras, telescopes, and binoculars must be equipped with solar filters covering their lenses continuously.
Aroh Barjatya inspecting the subpayloads which will eject from the rocket mid-flight
To enhance our comprehension of Earth's atmospheric dynamics and the impacts of solar phenomena on our planet, NASA is initiating a sounding rocket mission known as "Atmospheric Perturbations around the Eclipse Path" (APEP).
During this mission, three rockets will be launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. They will ascend to positions just outside the path of annularity, where the Moon will precisely align with the Sun during the annular solar eclipse scheduled for October 14, 2023.
Heading the mission and supervising the Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Lab is Aroh Barjatya, who holds the position of a professor in engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, located in Daytona Beach, Florida.
If you think of the ionosphere as a pond with some gentle ripples on it, the eclipse is like a motorboat that suddenly rips through the water. It creates a wake immediately underneath and behind it, and then the water level momentarily goes up as it rushes back in.- Aroh Barjatya
Residents in proximity to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico may have the opportunity to witness a captivating sight: the swift, luminous trails of scientific rockets racing toward the shadow of the eclipse.
The primary objective of this mission is to explore the impact of the abrupt reduction in sunlight on the upper atmosphere, with a specific focus on the ionosphere. These rockets will carry advanced scientific instruments designed to measure alterations in electric and magnetic fields, as well as changes in density and temperature within the ionosphere.
The ionosphere commences approximately 50 miles above the Earth's surface, where the energy from sunlight generates charged particles, including ions and electrons. According to NASA, the ultraviolet component of sunlight has the ability to separate electrons from atoms, forming a high-altitude mixture of ions and electrons.
During daylight hours, these particles typically remain dispersed due to the Sun's energy. However, when the Sun sets, some of these particles recombine into neutral atoms, only to disperse once more as the Sun rises.
NASA elucidated how a solar eclipse leads to the sudden disappearance and reappearance of sunlight over a limited area within a very short span. This rapid transition triggers fluctuations in ionospheric temperature and density, causing waves to propagate through the ionosphere.
Within the APEP mission, the rockets are outfitted with compact scientific instruments engineered to gauge alterations in electric and magnetic fields, as well as variations in density and temperature within the ionosphere. These specialized instruments are tailored to furnish comprehensive data regarding ionospheric perturbations that occur during the solar eclipse.
Furthermore, the mission will encompass ground-based observations and data collection from diverse locales, such as Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and MIT's Haystack Observatory situated in Westford, Massachusetts.
All satellite communications go through the ionosphere before they reach Earth. As we become more dependent on space-based assets, we need to understand and model all perturbations in the ionosphere.- Aroh Barjatya
The three rockets are scheduled for sequential launches, with the first one taking off 35 minutes before the local peak of the eclipse, the second launching during the peak eclipse moment, and the final rocket departing 35 minutes after the eclipse concludes.
These rockets will venture just beyond the central path of the annular eclipse, where the Moon aligns directly in front of the Sun.
If successful, this mission will mark a significant milestone as it will be the first time that simultaneous data has been gathered from multiple locations within the ionosphere during a solar eclipse, according to NASA.
Sounding rockets were chosen for this project due to their capacity to provide highly precise measurements within specific regions of space. Also, these rockets can measure variations in different altitudes as they ascend and descend, thereby offering a detailed insight into the ionospheric fluctuations during the solar eclipse.
NASA has indicated that the APEP rockets will collect measurements ranging from 45 to 200 miles (70 to 325 kilometers) above the Earth's surface along their flight path.
"Rockets are the best way to look at the vertical dimension at the smallest possible spatial scales. They can wait to launch at just the right moment and explore the lower altitudes where satellites can’t fly," added Barjatya.
The APEP mission has plans to redeploy the retrieved rockets, launching them from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 8, 2024. This date coincides with a total solar eclipse that will stretch across the United States, spanning from Texas to Maine. This unique opportunity will enable scientists to assess the comprehensive effects of a solar eclipse.