About once a year, somewhere on Earth, the sun is blocked by the moon. This phenomenon – called a total solar eclipse – is one of the most beautiful natural events.
Blocking the light of the sun during a total solar eclipse reveals the sun’s relatively faint, feathery atmosphere, called the corona. The corona is one of the most interesting parts of the sun. We usually study it using an instrument called a coronagraph, which uses a solid disk to make an artificial eclipse by blocking the sun’s face.
To successfully block all of the sun’s bright light – which can bend around the sharp edges of a coronagraph disk – coronagraphs must block much more than just the face of the sun. So total solar eclipses are a rare chance to study the lower part of the corona, close to the surface of the sun.
We have sent a team of scientists to Indonesia, where they’re preparing for an experiment during the March 8, 2016, eclipse, visible from Southeast Asia.
The scientists are measuring a certain kind of light – called polarized light – scattered by electrons in the lower corona, which will help us understand the temperature and speed of these electrons.
The March 8 eclipse is a preview of the total solar eclipse that will be visible across the US in August 2017.
Remember, you should never look directly at the sun – even if the sun is partly obscured. This also applies during a total eclipse up until the time when the sun is completely and totally blocked. More on safety: http://go.nasa.gov/1L6xpnI
For more eclipse information, check out nasa.gov/eclipse
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