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NASA to launch three rockets to follow the 'Great North American Solar Eclipse' on April 8

The sounding rockets will study the short-term impact of the sun's disappearance on the ionosphere and how it impacts our communications.

NASA to launch three rockets to follow the 'Great North American Solar Eclipse' on April 8
Cover Image Source: YouTube | NASA

The much-anticipated 'Great North American Solar Eclipse' day is here. Along with people in the path of totality, NASA is also set to make the most of the rare solar event by launching three rockets to trace the path of the eclipse. The solar eclipse will be seen across various regions in North America for more than six hours, per CBS News. During this time, the rockets will "study how Earth’s upper atmosphere is affected when sunlight momentarily dims over a portion of the planet," as per NASA's website. The sounding rockets, used to "study the disturbances in the ionosphere created when the Moon eclipses the Sun," will be launched at three different times: 45 minutes before, during and 45 minutes after the peak local eclipse.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Eclipse Chasers
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Eclipse Chasers

The decided intervals of the launches are important to collect data on how the Sun's sudden disappearance affects the ionosphere (located 55 miles to 310 miles above the ground) or creates "potential disturbances" that can affect our communications. The ionosphere consists of sea particles ionized or electrically charged by the sun’s energy; these revert to neutral particles at night. The launch will take place from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rockets have previously been used during the annular solar eclipse in October 2023, in Mexico and have been refurbished with new instrumentation to be launched in April 2024. The mission will be led by Aroh Barjatya, a professor of engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, where he directs the Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Lab.


The professor explains the ionosphere and its correlation with the mission, “It’s an electrified region that reflects and refracts radio signals, and also impacts satellite communications as the signals pass through.” He adds, “Understanding the ionosphere and developing models to help us predict disturbances is crucial to making sure our increasingly communication-dependent world operates smoothly.” The ionosphere is a dynamic layer and is changing constantly. However, it's difficult to understand short-term changes in the ionosphere through satellites because the satellite might not be available at the right spot at the right time to study the impact of the eclipse. Now, as the exact date and time of the eclipse are known, NASA can launch sounding rockets to study the effects of the eclipse at a scheduled time and different altitudes of the ionosphere.

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Many teams across the country will be studying the event. Including a team of students from Embry-Riddle to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory in Massachusetts, and the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, per indy100. NASA states, "As the eclipse shadow races through the atmosphere, it creates a rapid, localized sunset that triggers large-scale atmospheric waves and small-scale disturbances, or perturbations." Furthermore, "These perturbations affect different radio communication frequencies. Gathering the data on these perturbations will help scientists validate and improve current models that help predict potential disturbances to our communications, especially high-frequency communication." With the next event not due until 2044, detailed study now becomes crucial for scientists.

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