UML Team Set to Study Solar Eclipse

A team of scientists from UMass Lowell will be stationed around the country on Monday, Aug. 21, eyes fixed on the sky, as the moon’s shadow passes in front of the sun and a total solar eclipse forms. Although it will be beautiful and eerie, the team isn’t simply stargazing — they’re conducting research funded by the National Science Foundation to capture gravity waves and use this information to predict weather more accurately.

This solar eclipse, known by many as the “Great American Eclipse,” will be visible on each coast of the US for the first time in almost 100 years. UML team members will be stationed in Wyoming, Illinois, Oregon, Idaho, and Massachusetts.

“We have developed an instrument that can observe very faint emissions from hundreds of kilometers above the ground both during the daytime as well as at night,” said Professor Supriya Chakrabarti, the director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology (LoCSST). “We may be the only team that has such capability. No one has tried to use anything like this to look at the effects of a total solar eclipse on the upper atmosphere before, during and after the eclipse.”

UMass Lowell students George Geddes, left, and Saurav Aryal, both research assistants working toward their Ph.D. in physics, will operate one of two HiT&MIS spectrographs on Monday, Aug. 21 as a total solar eclipse passes over Carbondale, Ill. The instruments, which were designed and built at the university’s Lowell Center for Space, Science and Technology, aim to capture images of space weather during the event which could help scientists better understand how to forecast weather on Earth, along with how to improve GPS, satellite and radio communications. Geddes and Aryal are from Lowell. (Photo credit: Edwin L. Aguirre for UMass Lowell).

The UML team will use these instruments to accumulate date before, during, and after the eclipse at each of the locations in the US in order to have higher chances of collecting data in a location with clear skies.

“The images and media collected during the eclipse will be shown to schools to help illustrate scientific concepts most students learn about and to generate interest in the field,” said Thomas Heywosz, a UML math major from Charlton. Heywosz will observe the eclipse from campus, where it will be 63 percent visible, through a 10-inch telescope with a solar filter.

Research scientist and team leader Susanna Finn, who will be watching the eclipse from Oregon, will be sporting solar eclipse glasses to protect her eyes. She warns other eclipse viewers to never look directly at the sun, but instead use a camera, telescope or binoculars with a solar filter. More information about the eclipse and the UML team can be found at www.uml.edu/eclipse.

The next total solar eclipse won’t happen until 2024, so grab your specialized solar glasses and a camera to capture this spectacular occasion.

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