Solar Eclipse Phenomenon: An Overview and Insight

by Liam O'Connor
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Solar Eclipse Phenomenon: An Overview and Insight

Solar eclipses manifest in three forms: total, annular, and partial. The way they appear is contingent upon the positions and proximities of the Earth, Moon, and Sun. Experiencing such occurrences can range from beholding an annular eclipse’s “ring of fire” to witnessing significant environmental shifts during a total eclipse. Furthermore, eclipses can have implications for technology, especially by impacting the ionosphere and potentially causing interruptions in communication signals.

The United States and numerous individuals globally will have the opportunity to observe a solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, and April 8, 2024.

There exist three distinct types of solar eclipses. During times when the Moon is distant from Earth, it does not have the magnitude to entirely obscure the Sun, resulting in an annular eclipse, anticipated on October 14, 2023. Conversely, when the Moon is proximate to the Earth, it can entirely overshadow the Sun, culminating in a total eclipse, set to happen on April 8, 2024. Partial eclipses transpire when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are not in perfect alignment, causing only a segment of the Sun to be obscured, lending it a crescent form. In instances of total or annular solar eclipses, those situated outside the paths of totality or annularity will perceive a partial solar eclipse.

A map generated using data from various NASA missions indicates the trajectory of the Moon’s shadow over the U.S. during the 2023 and 2024 solar eclipses. This map was crafted by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) in association with the NASA Heliophysics Activation Team (NASA HEAT), a component of NASA’s Science Activation portfolio. The credits go to NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison with eclipse computations by Ernie Wright from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Insights into the Eclipse Experience

Mitzi Adams, an official at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Heliophysics and Planetary Science Branch, recounts her experiences during five total eclipses. According to Adams, the phenomenon is unparalleled. It feels as if a large bowl is placed over Earth right above one’s location. The ambiance darkens during midday, but a luminescence remains visible around the edges. It presents an opportunity to witness a sunrise or sunset. Ambient temperatures drop, winds intensify, and certain animals, such as birds, might exhibit nocturnal behaviors.

The forthcoming annular eclipse on October 14 will maintain a relatively bright sky even when up to 90% of the sun is obscured. Those on the annularity trajectory will have the occasion to see the renowned “ring of fire”. However, it’s essential to set realistic expectations and be equipped with solar viewing glasses throughout the event.

Bill Cooke, leader of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office and an eclipse aficionado, expresses his eagerness for the 2024 total eclipse. He emphasizes that the duration of totality, where the sun is entirely hidden, will surpass that of the 2017 eclipse, extending to nearly four and a half minutes.

Technological and Communication Repercussions

During forthcoming eclipse events, technological alterations might be evident as the moon traverses Earth, causing the ionosphere to cool.

The ionosphere serves as a barrier between Earth’s troposphere and outer space. It emerges due to particle ionization caused by solar radiation. A total solar eclipse effectively deactivates the ionosphere’s primary ionizing process, simulating nocturnal conditions, potentially leading to disruptions in communications signals that traverse the ionosphere. GPS signals may exhibit inaccuracies, and radio wave properties could alter, occasionally enabling ham radio enthusiasts to communicate over extended ranges. Notably, the ionosphere houses numerous NASA satellites, including the International Space Station.

On October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse, characterized by the “ring of fire”, is forecasted to move from the coast of Oregon to the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on weather conditions, a majority of the Americas will be positioned to observe, at the very least, a partial solar eclipse. This information is credited to NASA.

Scientific Aspects of Solar Eclipses

Witnessing an eclipse offers a universal chance to engage with NASA Science. Depending on technological accessibility (e.g., mobile phones, computers, telescopes), numerous NASA Citizen Science projects are available that pertain to solar phenomena and lunar shadow impacts on the Earth’s stratosphere. These projects include:

  • GLOBE Observer: Monitor environmental conditions.
  • Solar Jet Hunter: Search for bursts of energy from the Sun.
  • Planet Hunters TESS: Locate planets to study extrasolar system evolutions.
  • Eclipse Soundscapes: Contribute multi-sensory observations during eclipses.
  • HamSCI: Promote scientific inquiry via amateur radio activities.
  • Radio JOVE: Study natural radio emissions from celestial bodies.
  • Sungrazer Project: Search for

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