The annular eclipse that will take place this Sunday will serve as practice for scientists that are already thinking about the total eclipse set to be seen in August of this year.
On August 21, the sun will be covered completely by the moon producing a total eclipse for about two full minutes. During that time, several groups of scientists and astronomers will be positioned in distinct areas of the United States to gather pieces of necessary information regarding aspects that can only be obtained during a total solar eclipse.
The scientific investigations that can be conducted only during an eclipse include the analysis of the sky and its changes while the phenomenon takes place, like sudden drops in air temperature and wind variations. Also, a total eclipse allows scientists the observation of the sun outer atmosphere called the corona.
Who will conduct the investigations?
One of the most specialized educators concerning eclipse studies is Professor Jay Pasachoff. He teaches astronomy at the Williams College in Massachoussets and has been involved in over seven investigations regarding total eclipses and other similar phenomena.
Pasachoff and his colleagues will be observing the annular eclipse this Sunday in Northern Argentina. This particular event consists of the sun being 99 percent covered by the moon. They will use Sunday’s observations as a practice to the total eclipse in August.
“That’s bright enough to hide very interesting phenomena,” Pasachoff said while comparing annular eclipses with total eclipses. “You really have to be within totality — and not even a few miles off to the side [of the path] — to really get the benefit of what we will be able to see on Aug. 21. I hereby appeal to people who think 90 percent or 99 percent coverage is enough. It’s not good enough. You have to be within 100 percent.”
Without a doubt, Professor Pasachoff is the best person in the world to be present in the study. He has conducted observations of over 64 eclipses during his lifetime: 33 total solar eclipses, 15 partial eclipses, and 16 annular eclipses. Partial and annular eclipses can be seen from distinct continents of the Earth, while total eclipses are only observable from particular and small areas.
Total eclipses happen every 18 months, and the last time it happened, Pasachoff and his team traveled to a small island in the Norwegian Archipelago called Svalbard for being able to conduct investigations.
He and his principal partner, Marcos Peñaloza-Murillo, a research scientist at the University of the Andes in Venezuela, were able to measure the changes present in the temperature during each stage of the phenomenon.
The results showed how in less than an hour, there were significant temperature changes, as it dropped from 8 degrees to minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit – minus 13 degrees to minus 21 degrees Celsius. The most dramatic drop was presented when the Sun was completely behind the Moon, and its disc became completely obscured.
Both Peñaloza-Murillo and Pasachoff will observe August’s eclipse in Salem, Massachoussets. However, before that happens, Pasachoff has explained the importance of practicing with Sunday’s annular eclipse, as no errors can be made to obtain valid information for further analysis.
The researchers have described how during a total eclipse they could be forced to make machinery adjustments and other procedure. Any mistake during the recollection of information can destroy the investigation itself. And due to the abnormality of these kind of phenomena, an error could delay investigations for many years.
“A lot of the reason for going to the annular eclipse is to get the routine down,” Pasachoff said. “There’s a lot of juggling, and practice helps. It helps us, so we know we’ll get it right in August.”
The Megamovie Project
Professor Pasachoff and his colleagues are organizing a massive project called “The Megamovie Project,” that includes the participation of over 1,000 volunteers across the United States.
The objective is for volunteers to capture digital footage of the sun when it becomes completely obscured by the moon. Each of these volunteers will be using a high-resolution camera and will undergo a capacitation process.
The principal goal of the event is to glue together all the material gathered by the volunteers to create a fantastic movie that can reflect the points of view of the phenomenon from several parts of the country.
In addition, there will be the official release of an app called “Megamovie App” in which people will be capable of collecting their footage of the important sky event. Individuals can download existing images and upload their ones, as all that material will be used to create a separate movie of the eclipse.