NASA Ames hosts eclipse viewing event
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — A crowd of about 1,000 people attended a public event at NASA’s Ames Research Center to observe the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse. Attendees gathered outside the Building 3 Conference Center at Ames wearing eclipse glasses provided by the space agency. Inside the Conference Center, attendees could watch NASA TV’s extensive coverage of the celestial event.
The eclipse crossed the continental United States, from Oregon all the way down to South Carolina, over a period encompassing almost two hours. People watching in the 70-mile-wide (∼110 km) “path of totality” across 14 states experienced about two minutes of darkness.
Those watching at NASA Ames saw a partial eclipse, with a coverage of approximately 74 percent of the Sun occurring at 10:15 a.m. PDT.
NASA’s televised coverage of the eclipse included views from research aircraft, high-altitude balloons, satellites, and specially modified telescopes. It also included live reports from Charleston, South Carolina; Salem, Oregon; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Beatrice, Nebraska; Jefferson City, Missouri; Carbondale, Illinois; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; and Clarksville, Tennessee.
NASA’s Eclipse Balloon Project, which was led by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University, sent up over 50 high-altitude balloons launched by student teams across the U.S. to live-stream footage of the eclipse. A research group at Ames conducted a low-cost experiment, called MicroStrat, on 34 of the balloons to simulate life’s ability to survive beyond Earth and possibly even on Mars.
“The August solar eclipse gives us a rare opportunity to study the stratosphere when it’s even more Mars-like than usual,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters. “With student teams flying balloon payloads from dozens of points along the path of totality, we’ll study effects on microorganisms that are coming along for the ride.”
Some of the first views of the eclipse were provided by a specially-modified Gulfstream III jet from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center flying at an altitude of approximately 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) in the vicinity of Lincoln City, Oregon.
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is studying how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it travels through the Sun’s lower atmosphere. IRIS Flight Operators were at the event to discuss their mission, which is controlled from Ames.
“During the eclipse, we can do calibrations on some scientific instruments that we can’t do at any over time,” said Flight Operator Michael Iatauro. “We are also coordinating our observations with ground-based and aerial telescopes. When they are observing the Sun’s corona during the eclipse, we can observe activities occurring on parts of the Sun that are blocked by the Moon from their point of view.”
As the eclipse began at 9:01 a.m. PDT, gray clouds began to drift in front of the Sun. For much of the next hour, the Sun peeked through the clouds occasionally; however, by the time the eclipse reached maximum coverage at 10:15 a.m. PDT, a large portion of the sky had cleared allowing observers to see the crescent Sun.
Video courtesy of NASA
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.