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SwRI planetary scientists to observe February 26 total solar eclipse
Scientists to make observations from the ground, research aircraft, and NASA satellites
San Antonio -- February 20, 1998 -- Scientists from Southwest Research Institute's® (SwRI®) Boulder, Colorado, office and its headquarters in San Antonio will be part of an international team of scientists who will study the total solar eclipse on February 26. The total eclipse will be visible from a narrow corridor that begins in the Pacific, continues through the Caribbean, and ends off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Much of the southern and eastern United States will see a partial eclipse.
This total eclipse promises to be one of the most studied eclipses in recent history, with scientists making observations from the ground on the island of Curacao, a research aircraft flying out of Panama, and several NASA satellites including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). The data they gather could eventually lead to better prediction of the coronal mass ejections that launch solar storms -- magnetic disturbances that sometimes erupt and slam into the Earth, causing large, colorful aurora, but also knocking out communications satellites and electric power grids.
Total solar eclipses provide scientists with unique opportunities to study our nearest star, the Sun, and learn about the outer atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona, which is the source of the solar wind and large solar storms that engulf the earth and make up "space weather." Even today, with modern satellites and spacecraft, a total solar eclipse still provides scientists with an opportunity to study the detailed, fine-scale structure of the inner corona in a way not otherwise possible.
On the northern tip of Curacao, SwRI scientists Dr. Don Hassler and Dr. Dave Slater will work in collaboration with a team led by Dr. Steve Tomczyk from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, to study the inner corona with large format electron detectors called charge coupled devices.
The scientists will observe and gather information about the smallest observable structures in the corona, which appear as light and dark "threads," analogous to studying individual strands of a person's head of wavy hair. Knowledge of this detailed small-scale coronal structure will help researchers understand the physical conditions and composition of the Sun's corona and the magnetic field that controls its structure. Ultimately, this information may help scientists understand how and why the Sun's magnetic field reverses or flip-flops every 11 years and what causes potentially destructive solar storms.
For more information about the SwRI observations, contact Deborah Deffenbaugh, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-2046, Fax (210) 522-3547.