NASA to Chase Solar Eclipse with Jets for Clearest Ever Photos of Corona

NASA is planning to chase down the upcoming August 21st solar eclipse in an effort to give scientists an opportunity to study the phenomenon for a longer period of time. Two of NASA’s WB-57F research jets, armed with telescopes, will be used to chase the eclipse at a precise speed that will allow scientists to observe it for 3 times longer than usual — that’s over 7 minutes of solar goodness.

NASA says that this will produce “the clearest images of the Sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury.”

An illustration of the upcoming mission. Image by NASA/Faroe Islands/SwRI

The mission will capture high-resolution images of the Sun’s atmosphere, at 30 fps, giving enough data to sufficiently study the usually obscured corona.

The information gleaned from the flight should allow scientists to determine why exactly the outer atmosphere is heated to millions of degrees, whereas the lower atmosphere is only a few thousand degrees.

“These could well turn out to be the best ever observations of high frequency phenomena in the corona,” says Dan Seaton, co-investigator of the project and researcher at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. “Extending the observing time and going to very high altitude might allow us to see a few events or track waves that would be essentially invisible in just two minutes of observations from the ground.”

The images will also be used to look for a hypothesized family of asteroids known as vulcanoids. They’re thought to be orbiting between the Sun and Mercury and are artifacts of the early formation of the universe. Such a discovery may change what science knows about planet formation.

(via NASA via DPReview)