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Observing total solar eclipses with NASA’s WB-57s

Presentation #118.01 in the session Solar and Atmospheric Science with Eclipses — Poster Session.

Published onOct 20, 2022
Observing total solar eclipses with NASA’s WB-57s

NASA’s WB-57F research aircraft offer a unique platform for observations of total solar eclipses (TSEs). Outfitted with a two-axis pointing platform mounted in the nose cone, the WB-57s can carry scientific telescopic imagers to observe the solar corona at multiple wavelengths with several advantages over ground-based observing. These include access to infrared wavelengths normally obscured from lower altitudes through atmospheric absorption and emission; guaranteed favorable viewing conditions; and the ability to travel to remote locations and track the eclipse shadow to extend viewing time from a single station.

We executed a successful engineering mission to observe the 2017 TSE using two WB-57s with visible-light and midwave infrared (MWIR: 3–5 μm) imagers. This mission provided pathfinding measurements in the historically poorly observed MWIR band and enabled characterization of the platform performance for solar observations. Another TSE crossing the continental U.S. will occur on 8 April 2024, providing an even better opportunity to leverage this unique platform for studies of coronal dynamics and structure in visible and IR wavelengths. A new photometrically calibrated multispectral scientific imaging suite provides upgraded access to multiple portions of the critical MWIR passband. When combined with other near-IR, visible, and near-UV measurements from the suite, and IR spectral imaging information from the planned ACES experiment on the NSF HIAPER GV, these measurements enable characterization of continuum and line emission from prominences, streamers, polar plumes, and active regions.

We discuss the capabilities of the WB-57 platform, lessons learned from the 2017 mission, and preliminary plans for a 2024 campaign using upgraded equipment.

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