Workshop shines light on eclipse research

By Paul Beckmeyer

The Crossroads Eclipse 2017 Research Workshop launched Saturday in the Student Center with a speech from recently-appointed Chancellor Carlo Montemagno. He spoke about the importance of researching the eclipse and the opportunity it provides scientists to learn more about the universe.  

“We live in a place that … is far bigger than the blue marble that we all reside on,” Montemagno said.  

The workshop featured presentations about eclipse research, including ways to study the sun’s corona — the atmosphere around the sun that is only on display during an eclipse — and experiments that will be conducted as totality is reached.


Sarah Kovac, a 2017 alumna with a degree in physics, gave a presentation about her work with the Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment, which consists of 68 telescopes set up at 68 sites along the eclipse’s path of totality.

The experiment relies on 20 high school and 20 college student groups to capture pictures of the eclipse. While Kovac said previous studies have shown no more than five continuous minutes of totality coverage, these pictures will be sewn together into 90 uninterrupted minutes of footage. 

“It is essentially an eclipse relay race,” Kovac said.

Kovac said she and her fellow researchers also study solar wind.

“We’re trying to figure out the acceleration, because we know that the solar wind is very low on the surface,” Kovac said, adding that they also know the wind is very fast in the corona.

Scientists do not yet understand why solar wind accelerates as it gets further away from the sun, Kovac said.

“When you merge onto the highway and you’re in your car, you push the gas pedal to accelerate … we don’t know the solar equivalent,” Kovac said.


Kovac said on occasion, the fast solar wind impacts the Earth by causing electronic interruptions and power grid failures. She said in 2012, one near accident with solar wind had the potential to cause $2 trillion of damage in the United States alone.

Greg Guzik, a professor from Louisiana State University, also presented the details of a scientific weather balloon launch that will take place in the SIU Arena on eclipse day. The balloons are eight feet tall, helium-filled and weigh approximately 500 grams.

The weather balloons will be launched by a team of students and faculty from LSU and used to study the shadow of the moon on the Earth during the eclipse, Guzik said.

Two balloons will be released 90 minutes before totality is reached and will climb to 100,000 feet to capture footage of the moon’s shadow as it moves across the Earth. One will record video, while the other will note environmental changes in the high altitudes.

Data will be streamed back to Carbondale, and the balloons will fall back to Earth. Guzik said he hopes for a soft landing to keep the recording equipment intact. Each balloon’s payload will descend via parachute.  

Montemagno said he hopes these experiments have long-lasting effects on those taking part in them.

“I’m anticipating that the results of this exercise will re-stimulate the young people … that discovery is still an option for them,” Montemagno said.

Staff writer Paul Beckmeyer can be reached at [email protected].

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