Stray Signals

Solar Eclipse Inspires Cool Science Experiments In NJ: Ham Radio, Sunspots

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — While some stargazers are preparing to party when the “Great American Solar Eclipse” takes place on Aug. 21, others plan to use the rare astronomical event to conduct some seriously cool science experiments.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark explained why the solar eclipse – which will be partially visible in New Jersey from 1 to 3 p.m. – is so enticing to researchers looking to understand more about the world we live in.

“On August 21, a total solar eclipse will cause the shadow of the moon to traverse the United States from Oregon to South Carolina in just over 90 minutes. In addition to the stunning visual display, the eclipse will have a significant impact on the Earth’s ionosphere. An electrically charged portion of the atmosphere between 37 to 620 miles in altitude, the ionosphere is formed when ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun strips electrons from neutral particles in the upper atmosphere. Therefore, the ionosphere will weaken in the region where the moon’s shadow blocks UV rays from entering the atmosphere. This will also affect radio signals passing through the ionosphere, as the electrical properties of the ionosphere will alter radio wave paths.”

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The solar eclipse will be visible across the United States for the first time since 1918. If the weather holds up, it should be visible across New Jersey, experts say.

But don’t expect to get a total solar eclipse that will be much more visible in the south, according to the National Weather Service. However, locals should prepare themselves anyway.

The National Weather Service says New Jersey will likely get what’s considered a “partial” solar eclipse — meaning that we’ll see 70 to 75 percent of the sun covered by the moon — that will start shortly after 1 p.m. and reach its peak just before 3 p.m.

Here are two experiments that NJIT faculty members plan to carry out on Aug. 21.

HAM RADIO CITIZEN SCIENCE

“Amateur (ham) radio operators will help study these effects through large-scale citizen science radio experiments using signals they transmit on shortwave bands,” NJIT administrators said. “These experiments are coordinated by HamSCI: the Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation, an organization aimed at bringing together the ham radio and space physics communities.”

“HamSCI is led by Nathaniel Frissell, who founded the organization along with fellow space physicist-ham radio operators while earning a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech working with SuperDARN HF radars,” NJIT administrators stated.

“Frissell is now an assistant research professor at NJIT. He has conducted research work in Antarctica (McMurdo Station), the Arctic (Svalbard), and Adak Island, Alaska. Dr. Frissell continues to be an active amateur radio operator (call sign W2NAF), and serves as co-advisor to the NJIT Amateur Radio Club, K2MFF. Some of his undergraduate advisees are involved in the project.”

SUNSPOT RESEARCH

“In other research conducted by NJIT and collaborators, partial phases of the eclipse will be imaged at radio frequencies with the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and with NJIT’s Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array radio telescope in California,” NJIT stated.

“The purpose of these observations is to image any sunspot regions on the sun that may be covered or uncovered by the moon, in order to improve the spatial resolution and quality of the radio images. The radio emission comes from the solar corona, and is normally of low spatial resolution due to the long wavelength of the radio waves. However, the well-known geometry of the eclipse allows imaging with far greater spatial resolution limited only by the distance the moon moves during the 1-second time resolution of the data. The research is led by Dale Gary, professor of physics at NJIT, along with Bin Chen, an assistant professor of physics at NJIT, and researchers from NRAO, Williams College and the Air Force Research Laboratory.”

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Photo: NJIT

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