October 14, 2023

NASA Will Fire 3 Rockets Directly At The ‘Ring Of Fire’ Solar Eclipse On Saturday, October 14. Learn More About The APEP Mission, Named For The Ancient Egyptian Deity Who Chased The Sun.

written by Brandon Specktor
Friday October 13, 2023

NASA researchers plan to launch three rockets carrying scientific instruments toward the moon's shadow on Oct. 14, to study changes in the atmosphere brought about by the annular solar eclipse.

As millions of people across North, Central and South America tilt their heads skyward to watch the partial "ring of fire" solar eclipse tomorrow (Oct. 14), NASA engineers will celebrate the once-in-a-decade event in their own way: By firing rockets directly at the eclipse's shadow.

Don't worry — the sun, moon and everyone watching will be just fine. According to NASA, the planned launch of three scientific rockets from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico is part of a purely scientific mission to study changes in Earth's upper atmosphere during the sudden plunge in daylight that eclipses bring.

At its peak, Saturday's eclipse will see roughly 90% of the sun's light blocked by the moon. We know from prior eclipses that this sudden drop in daylight can have some really strange effects on the planet, including rapid changes in temperature, wind patterns and even animal behavior. Less understood is how an eclipse affects the electrically-charged upper atmosphere, or ionosphere, which begins between 30 and 50 miles (50 to 80 kilometers) above Earth.

Here, the sun's ultraviolet radiation rips electrons away from atoms, forming a vast sea of charged particles throughout the day; at sundown, many of these electrons recombine into neutral atoms, until the sun's morning rays return and split them apart again. During the 2017 total solar eclipse over North America, scientists watched a speeded up version of this process play out when the moon completely blocked the sun's light for a few moments, causing "ripples" in the ionosphere as temperatures and ion density rapidly dipped, then rose again just after the eclipse's peak.

The combined air- and ground-based data will give APEP researchers an unprecedented view of atmospheric changes during an eclipse. The team will also recover and reuse the rockets to study the eclipse due to cross North America on April 8, 2024 — this time, launching from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, just outside the eclipse's path.

Following that, the team won't get another chance to shoot rockets at the moon's shadow until 2044, when the next total solar eclipse arrives.
KENS 5: Your San Antonio News Source published October 14, 2023: 'RING OF FIRE' TIMELAPSE: See how the annular eclipse looked in San Antonio. Get a close-up view of the annular eclipse across several hours in the San Antonio sky.
written by Jamie Carter
Saturday October 7, 2023

NASA will send three rockets into the moon’s shadow next Saturday as the moon partially blocks the sun.

In what is an annular (ring-shaped) solar eclipse for a 125 miles-wide path through the U.S. Southwest and a partial solar eclipse for the entire Americas, the event will see a sudden drop in sunlight.

At the peak of the event, about 90% of the sun will be blocked by the moon. How that affects Earth’s upper atmosphere will be the target of the mission, which will see three sounding rockets launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, just outside the path of the “ring of fire.”

If it succeeds, it will be the first simultaneous measurements taken from different locations in a very special layer of Earth’s atmosphere during a solar eclipse.

What The Rockets Will Do

NASA will look for perturbations—changes in the Earth’s atmosphere—during the eclipse. “There will be three NASA-funded suborbital rockets, each of which will launch before, during and after the peak of the eclipse to gather data on Earth’s atmosphere, electron density and temperature,” said Madhulika Guhathakurta, heliophysics program scientist, in a press briefing at NASA Headquarters.

After the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, the next one over the contiguous U.S. is not until 2044, while the next annular solar eclipse after this Saturday’s is not until 2046.

The rockets, which will launch 35 minutes apart, will travel to about 50 miles up into the ionosphere, where the air becomes electric. Here, a sea of ions and electrons wax and wane in temperature and density at sunrise and sunset. During an eclipse—when sunlight vanishes quickly—it’s expected that waves will ripple through the ionosphere. “This is the first time we have done this because such an opportunity only comes once in about 400 years,” said Guhathakurta.

Ripples On A Pond

This project, called Atmospheric Perturbations around the Eclipse Pat, is led by Aroh Barjatya, a professor of engineering physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He directs the Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Lab.

“If you think of the ionosphere as a pond with some gentle ripples on it, the eclipse is like a motorboat that suddenly rips through the water,” said Barjatya in a press statement. “It creates a wake immediately underneath and behind it, and then the water level momentarily goes up as it rushes back in.”

Each rocket will deploy four small scientific instruments that will measure changes in electric and magnetic fields, density and temperature.

“Rockets are the best way to look at the vertical dimension at the smallest possible spatial scales,” said Barjatya. “They can wait to launch at just the right moment and explore the lower altitudes where satellites can’t fly.”

Path Of The ‘Ring Of Fire’ Solar Eclipse

Note: At no point will the sun be completely covered by the moon, so solar eclipse glasses must be worn at all times to avoid serious eye damage. It’s also important that all photographic equipment has solar filters in place.

The annular solar eclipse will be experienced only from a path that runs through Oregon, Northern California, Nevada, southwestern Idaho, Utah, northeastern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The next annular solar eclipse in this part of country isn’t until 2046.

After it exits the U.S., that path will run through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Brazil.

Though the sight of a “ring of fire”—a golden ring around the edges of the new moon—can only be experienced inside the path, almost everyone in North, Central and South America will see a partial solar eclipse.

I’m an expert on eclipses—the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024. For the very latest on the “ring of fire” solar eclipse check my main feed for new articles each day.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
UPDATE 10/14/23 at 9:46pm: Added info below.

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