Eclipse to help scientists understand our sun

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The solar eclipse coming this Monday will be more than a sky spectacular.  It's a great opportunity for scientists---many of them based at the University of Arizona.

When the moon covers the sun it uncovers ways to study the sun scientists do not have on a usual day.

With the bright body of the sun blotted out scientists get their best view of the corona, the atmosphere at the fringe of our star.

Doctor Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory says, “One way to think about that is to sit in your living room and use your thumb to block out a light.  You'll be able to see the dust in the atmosphere in the air in your room around that light but only if you block out the light source itself."

Doctor Penn is with the National Solar Observatory office at UA. The observatory is not part of the University of Arizona but it maintains an office on campus. The National Solar Observatory is part of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy and operated in cooperation with the National Science Foundation.

Doctor Penn says the special view during an eclipse may help scientists explain things about the sun that defy common sense.

Normally you'd figure the closer you are to something that's hot, the hotter it's going to be but with the sun and other stars it's just the reverse and the eclipse may give scientists a chance to figure out that paradox.  The surface of the sun is about 10,000 degrees or so but when you move away and out into that corona the eclipse will let them see, the temperature gets to be about two million degrees.

There's a similar mystery with the solar wind, the stream of electrically charged particles from the sun.  The farther away from the sun, the faster the particles go and solar wind creates a type of electrical storm that makes trouble on Earth.

Doctor Penn says, "They can disrupt power grids, or interrupt cellphone communications or GPS navigation satellites."

The total eclipse will only last about two minutes in any one place but even small telescopes will be able to take useful observations. So scientists and skilled amateurs are setting 68 small scopes along the path of the eclipse through a program called the Citizen CATE experiment. . Doctor Penn will combine what they get into 90 minutes of images that should help us understand our sun.

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