Why is the corona of the sun so much hotter than the center? Scientists are flying high-altitude jets into the shadow of an eclipse to gather data on why this is.ut on Aug. 21 the jet will soar about 45,000 feet into the sky in pursuit of a natural phenomenon unlike any it’s faced before: a total solar eclipse.
image credit: Science Channel
“There’s no second shot for this, when usually we have a little more room for error,” said Louis Lussier, the research aircraft project manager at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “We need to be along this specific track and at these specific locations at these specific times.”
The scientists will use the extra time, and a large device known as a spectrometer, to observe the sun’s corona, the sheath of plasma surrounding our star. The corona is visible from Earth only during a total solar eclipse, and scientists use the phenomenon to study its properties.
Because of several technological advances in the last few decades, this eclipse offers scientists the chance to observe the corona in the infrared spectrum, which may reveal insight into the sun’s magnetic fields. The data could help answer a longstanding puzzle: Why does the corona burn at millions of degrees Fahrenheit, much hotter than the sun’s surface?