NASA broadcast commemorates Great American Eclipse anniversary
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the total solar eclipse that swept across the U.S. Aug. 21, 2017, NASA hosted an online Live Science Chat focusing on new data from the event and the impact it had on millions of people.
Chat participants included NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center space weather scientist Yari Collado-Vega, International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor director and professor Jon Miller and Goddard solar scientist Alex Young.
Sometimes called “The Great American Eclipse,” it marked the first time a solar eclipse spanned the entire continental U.S. in 99 years. The path of totality, the thin band where the Moon completely covered the disc of the Sun, touched 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina.
Green said NASA started planning for the eclipse approximately three years in advance. In collaboration with citizen scientists, the space agency conducted observations across the entire path of totality and imaged the eclipse from the ground, air and space.
More than 50 high-altitude balloons were launched to observe the eclipse from an altitude of 120,000 feet (36,600 meters). Because the lower air pressure and temperature at this altitude are similar to those on Mars’s surface, 30 of the balloons were sent with tiny microbe samples to determine whether they could survive in a Mars-like environment.
The latex balloons stayed at 120,000 feet (36,600 meters) above the Earth for about two hours before expanding and popping. The microbe samples were then returned to Earth via gondolas.
Additionally, while astronauts aboard the International Space Station were not able to see totality, they were able to view the Moon’s shadow traversing the continent.
An estimated 215 million people watched the eclipse either in person or online, making it the most-watched event ever in the U.S. Interest in eclipses, astronomy and science continued to increase in the months following the eclipse.
Looking ahead, the speakers said the next total solar eclipse on the North American continent will occur on April 8, 2024. Its path of totality will stretch from Texas to Maine and it will occur during solar maximum, when the Sun is most active.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.