solar eclipse

NASA Conducts Rocket Launches to Study Effects of Solar Eclipse on Earth’s Upper Atmosphere


NASA is set to launch three rockets into the shadow of the October 14 solar eclipse to gain insights into how the sudden drop in sunlight affects the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The mission, named Atmospheric Perturbations around the Eclipse Path (APEP), will take place near the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The ionosphere, located between 48 to 965 kilometers above sea level, is the ionized part of the atmosphere. This region is where UV radiation from the Sun separates electrons from atoms to form ions and electrons. Throughout the day, the constant energy from the Sun prevents these particles from separating. However, during an eclipse when the Sun is obscured, these particles may recombine into neutral atoms and become ionized once again at sunrise.

During the 2017 total solar eclipse in North America, various instruments detected significant atmospheric changes, extending even to areas hundreds of kilometers outside the path of the eclipse. This included disruptions to important infrastructure like GPS and communication satellites, which rely on the ionosphere for satellite communication.

As our reliance on space-based assets continues to grow, it is crucial to understand and accurately model any disturbances to the ionosphere and their potential effects. The APEP mission aims to do just that by launching three rockets at specific times relative to the peak of the eclipse.

The first rocket will be launched approximately 35 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, followed by one during the peak phase, and the final rocket around 35 minutes after the peak. Each rocket will deploy four small scientific instruments to measure density, temperature, and changes in electric and magnetic fields.

These measurements will provide valuable data on how the eclipse affects the upper atmosphere and will help scientists enhance their understanding of atmospheric perturbations. By studying these effects, researchers can improve their models and predictions, ultimately leading to better management and protection of space-based assets.

The APEP mission is part of NASA’s ongoing efforts to unravel the mysteries of the universe and Earth’s atmosphere. By observing and analyzing the impacts of celestial events like solar eclipses, scientists can further expand their knowledge of the interconnectedness of the cosmos and our planet.

As the October 14 solar eclipse approaches, anticipation grows for the launch of these three rockets and the wealth of information they will provide. Stay tuned for updates on NASA’s mission to study the effects of the solar eclipse on Earth’s upper atmosphere.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it