Tens of thousands of people will be participating in a joint experimentation which is set to be the first of it's kind, for the upcoming solar eclipse at the end of the summer.
The various studies will be taking place across campuses and labs in America, in what is hoped to be a revolutionary study of events that could be once in a lifetime due to the rare spectacle of a solar eclipse.
One group in particular is the Citizen Continental-America Telescope Eclipse Experiment, or CATE for short, which is a project by the National Solar Observatory. Using special telescopes, their plan is to record the eclipse at more than 68 different sites, including three in Idaho.
A Boise State University physics Professor, Brian Jackson, says most of the people involved are students or amateur astronomers.
“This is a citizen science project. It’s going to involve dozens and dozens of citizens across the country and so it’s a really unique opportunity for folks to get involved in active research,” Jackson says. He claims the goal is to study the outermost layers of the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona.
"We’re still really trying to understand the corona and the eclipse gives us a really nice opportunity to do that because during the eclipse the rest of the sun is blocked out and so the corona comes popping out and it’s very easy to see during the total eclipse,” says Jackson.
There's also a team of dedicated scientists and students from The University of Alabama in Huntsville, who will join scientists from around the world and the millions of tourists streaming into the path of a total solar eclipse that will span the U.S. from coast to coast for the purposes of research.
Instead of simply just measuring the sun's corona, the team from UAH's Severe Weather Institute, Radar and Lightning Laboratories, wants to watch clouds dissipate as the sun's heat disappears.
They want to measure how quickly individual columns of warm air rising into the hot summer sky wither away as cooler air starts to puddle at or near the surface, when they aren't using their instruments to count bugs.
"We've been looking at the afternoon-to-evening transition for years," said Knupp, a professor of atmospheric science at UAH. "What an opportunity for us to study in fast motion something we've been studying at regular speed for the past eight years."
While the period of total darkness during the eclipse will last less than three minutes, a maximum of about 2 minutes and 40 seconds at Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the period of 50 percent solar coverage could be upwards of an hour, "which is long enough to disrupt the daytime boundary layer at a time that would see maximum solar heating except for the eclipse," Knupp said.
The UAH team will position the profiles, each of which is intended map the vertical structure of the atmosphere, and the Doppler radar at four locations from Clarksville, TN, and Hopkinsville, KY, to Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky. The UAH team will set up the day before the Aug. 21 eclipse so they can go out that morning to collect data on the local night-to-day transition.
Some centers of research however intend to use a different approach, but simply analyzing radio signals in order to study the solar eclipse. “Any solar eclipse is a good opportunity to study the ionosphere,” said Jill K. Nelson, who is an expert in signal processing at George Mason University in Virginia.
The different levels of ions in the ionosphere fluctuates from day to night, which decreases when sunlight is no longer a factor. “We’re using the radio signal strength to understand what’s going on in the ionosphere,” Nelson said.
The first attempt to study radio signals during an eclipse happened in 1912, Nelson said.EclipseMob, the individual group responsible for these studies, has a few advantages over past research however.
They have thousands of people now involved across the United States, the consistency of the radio signals have grown exponentially since the early 1900s, and by hooking receivers to smartphones globally they should receive accurate data on location and time.
The solar eclipse will be passing over the most populous regions in the continental United States in mid August, so the totality will be particularly useful. EclipseMob participants are scattered across the country with some close to the path of the eclipse and others located in far corners of the country.
The citizen scientists intend 5o use their radio receivers to listen to two separate signals. Their research could be crucial to future endeavors.
One comes from a Navy transmitter in California. The other is the 60 kHz broadcast at the National Institute of Standards and Technology facility in Colorado, also known as the radio station WWVB, which intends to transmit digital time codes across the United States.
While all of these groups hope to further expand technology that can advance mankind, the rest of America and parts of the globe will physically training their eyes to see the spectacular and incredibly rare event themselves.