HAMPTON, Va. (Aug. 11, 2017) – Millions of Americans are in the path of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse that will cross the entire United States, but it’s more than a cool light show for Hampton University’s Co-Director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences, Dr. James M. Russell.
“This eclipse is truly an exciting event because it will allow us to make measurements in the natural laboratory of the atmosphere under conditions of extreme, quick, change in sunlight,” he said.
Russell will retrieve that data using the Sounding of the Atmosphere Using Broadband Emission Radiometry (SABER) instrument. He is the SABER principal investigator, which is one of four instruments on NASA's TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics Dynamics) satellite. Its primary goal is to improve our understanding of the mesosphere (layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, directly above the stratosphere, immedietely below where the "edge of space" begins). SABER has been in orbit over 15 years collecting data to study interactions between the sun and our atmosphere.
The last time a solar eclipse was visible across the entire country was June 8, 1918. While Hampton and the rest of Virginia misses the total eclipse, Russell will still be able to conduct experiments with the partial eclipse.
Monday’s eclipse is expected to peak for 90 seconds; meaning, for more than a minute, the earth will immediately go black. “It’s like flipping off the switch,” Russell said.
The response of atmospheric gases to the quick turn off will help Dr. Russell understand reaction rates, which are needed to understand how the atmosphere is behaving.
“The nature of the changes will allow us to look at responses in ozone, nitric oxide and temperatures we cannot get any other way,” Dr. Russell said.
Dr. M. Patrick McCormick, Co-Director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University, who was recently inducted into NASA Langley Research Center’s Hall of Honor for his contributions to the atmospheric sciences, will also observe the solar eclipse. His observations, however, will be more instrument focused. McCormick will “fire-off” Hampton University’s Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system. LIDAR sends a powerful laser beam into space to examine the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. McCormick expects to see the effects of reduced background light and increased altitude capability for his LIDAR measurements.
“During the solar eclipse in Hampton, it will be twilight. We will see the effect of the noise reduction in our measurements,” Dr. McCormick said.
The total solar eclipse will follow a slightly curved path from Oregon to South Carolina. Those who can see the eclipse in its "totality," the area where the sun is completely blocked by the moon, is only 70 miles wide. The remainder of the country, including Hampton, will see a partial eclipse.
For those who wish to see the eclipse from the Hampton Roads area, peak time is 2:47 p.m. EDT, when the moon obscures 85.7% of the sun.
But, don’t look directly at the sun from this area. Experts at NASA say, "The only time the sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during a total eclipse, when the moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. It is never safe to look at a partial eclipse, or the partial phases of a total solar eclipse, without the proper equipment and techniques."
If you don't have eyewear approved for watching the eclipse, experts recommend poking a hole in a sheet of paper and focusing the sun’s image through it to view on the ground. For more information on viewing the solar eclipse safely, click here.
For a better look at how to see the eclipse from where you are as well as viewing times in your area, click here.