Driggs to be involved in multi-state citizen science effort to study eclipse


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DRIGGS — While most of the discussion of the upcoming total solar eclipse has centered around tourism and its impacts on the valley, the stellar phenomenon is also a major event for science.

As part of the study of the eclipse, Driggs residents will be involved in a citizen science project.

“This dataset is going to be extraordinary,” said Dr. Matt Penn from the National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory, the Principal Investigator for the program.

The project, called the Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse experiment, or Citizen CATE, will combine short observations of the eclipse from 68 sites across the country into one long look at the sun as it passes.

Penn said normally during a solar eclipse, his group gets about two minutes of data in the region closest to solar surface, but Citizen CATE will allow them to get an hour and a half of data!”

Solar eclipses of some sort actually occur fairly frequently, happening somewhere over the earth every 18 months. Most of those happen in remote areas or over the ocean. The eclipse coming to Driggs on Aug. 21, is special in that it will travel across over population centers allow many observers to have a good look. The last eclipse to cross the entire continental U.S. occurred in 1918.

Claire Raftery, NSO’s head of Education and Outreach said that since so many people will be watching this eclipse will allow for a type of measurement which would normally be very impractical if not impossible to make

“Additionally, the fact that this is a citizen science effort means we’re not only acquiring hard-to-get data, but also involving a diverse set of professional and citizen scientists,” said Dave Boboltz, solar physics program director at the National Science Foundation which provides funding for the Citizen CATE equipment and the National Solar Observatory. “Ultimately, the data they help collect will help us understand space weather better – something that impacts our communications, satellites and cell phones.”

For the Citizen CATE Experiment, scientists, students and volunteers will track the Sun using 68 identical telescopes, software and instrument packages spaced along the line of totality, which runs right through Driggs.

The celestial event will begin with a partial solar eclipse and culminate with about two minutes of a complete eclipse, generating more than 1,000 images at each sit. As the Moon’s shadow passes from west to east, each telescope in the Citizen CATE project will be ready to take up the observation as the shadow appears on the horizon. The resulting dataset will consist of an unprecedented 90 minutes of continuous, high-resolution images detailing the Sun’s inner corona, a region of the solar atmosphere typically very challenging to image according to the NSO.

In normal conditions the Sun’s bright surface, overpowers all interesting features present in the Sun’s faint, wispy outer atmosphere called the corona. The corona can only be seen when the surface covered, as it will be in August.

“Our site volunteers and state coordinators are helping to generate a research-quality dataset that will allow us to see unprecedented views of our star’s inner atmosphere,” says Penn.

Although the project is led by the National Solar Observatory, the CATE experiment depends heavily on volunteers. Each state has up to a dozen sites and each individual site is run by site leaders who range from amateur astronomers to school teachers. Overall, this effort is only successful thanks to the input of more than 100 volunteers stretching across the country.

From the National Solar Observatory

While Citizen CATE is no longer accepting volunteers, other opportunities for scientific collaboration on eclipse day exist. For example, students and citizens can collect data on how the natural environment changes through the GLOBE and AREN programs (https://www.globe.gov/) or can contribute to the Eclipse MegaMovie project (eclipsemega.movie).

You can find more information about the upcoming eclipse and Citizen CATE at http://eclipse2017.nso.edu.

This story originally appeared on Teton Valley News. It is posted here with permission.