Montgomery County News, Arkansas -

Solar Wind Sherpas share eclipse knowledge

MOUNT IDA – Expectant eclipse aficionados were treated to a rare glimpse into the history of eclipse observation, as well as current studies being conducted by the Solar Wind Sherpas, a group of scientists visiting Montgomery County from the University of Hawaii.
Shaddai Habbel, the intrepid leader of the Solar Wind Sherpas, spoke to a room full of people eager to learn more about solar eclipses. Her presentation was titled “The Glory of the Sun by Total Eclipses.”

Shadia Habbel, lead scientist with the Solar Wind Sherpas, takes time to further discuss the eclipse with Chance Scott of Conway, Arkansas after her presentation Saturday, April 6. – Photo by Dewayne Holloway

She opened by explaining how total eclipses work. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, blocking out the light. This reveals the corona. Total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months somewhere in the world. The April 8 eclipse had a totality coverage area of just over 100 miles wide.
The first record of a solar eclipse was found in China and dated to the 1300s BC. The first verifiable record of an eclipse dates from about one hundred years later and was found in Syria.
The first recorded prediction of an eclipse found was from the second century BC and was inscribed on an Assyrian Tablet.
Some of the topics covered were the structures found in the corona visible during the totality, how far the corona extends into space, and the Zeiman effect.
A type of spectrometer was first used in 1869 to study the heat of the sun by analyzing the colors found in the light. It took 70 mores years to discover a new color in the corona. It was deduced that the new color was the result of iron being heated to temperatures of two million degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature the iron loses half its electrons and is no longer magnetic.
One of the implications of this discovery was solar winds, or heat leaving the sun.
The earth is protected from the solar winds by our atmosphere and is no threat to us.
Evidence of solar winds are found in comets and their ionized tails. The aurora borealis is further evidence of solar winds. The aurora borealis occurs when the solar winds impact the upper atmosphere at the North and South Poles.
Habbal turned her attention to her team, The Solar Wind Sherpas, and their research. She explained that their name was the result of her team carrying large packs of equipment everywhere they went in the early days of their research. The packs caused them to look like sherpas on expedition, thus the name.
She observed and gathered data from her first total eclipse in 1995 which she observed in India. The April 8 eclipse was her 20th eclipse to study.
The purpose of their research is the analysis of light. Through multiwavelength eclipse observations they can observe the iron in the corona as it heats and loses electrons. This allows them to measure the temperature fluctuations throughout the corona during the eclipse. They use these measurements to create a temperature map of the corona.
One structure of interest found within the corona are coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. CMEs are “bubbles” which generate from the corona. They appear as arches at the base of the streamers seen jutting out from the corona. The CMEs are the result of much cooler temperatures found at the base of the hottest areas in the corona. With temperatures around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the structures appear red. One could be seen at the southern edge of Monday’s eclipse.

Shadia Habbel, lead scientist with the Solar Wind Sherpas, discusses the Solar Eclipse research she and her team conduct. – Photo by Dewayne Holloway

The Solar Wind Sherpas had three base camps set up for the April 8 eclipse. Habbel led the team which was set up at Forest Farm Retreat Center. The other locations were in Texas and Mexico. Their research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Her team also utilized large kites and instruments installed on a NASA aircraft. Both of these projects were funded by NASA.
One of the highlights of the day were the brilliant questions asked by a young attendee named Chance Scott from Conway. Chance, who was present with his father, Chris Scott, asked questions regarding the effect heat has on the colors we see in the corona. He questioned the speed of light and how that figures into our view of the eclipse.


Read More