BYU-Idaho teams up with other universities for eclipse-related science
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REXBURG — One incredible astronomical event plus physics students from multiple universities equaled “a feast of science.”
The Brigham Young University-Idaho physics department teamed up with Weber State University, Montana State University and scientists from Leiden University in the Netherlands to conduct a number of experiments made possible by Monday’s total solar eclipse.
Students under Stephen McNeil, head of the BYU-Idaho physics department, teamed up with the Netherland’s Leiden University’s Frans Snik to study the inner corona, the section of solar atmosphere only visible during a total solar eclipse in the Citizen CATE experiment.
“We observe that with special polarization filters on top of three, kind of regular, DSLR cameras,” Snik told EastIdahoNews.com. “We also want to the sky around it (the corona) because the sky around it will, of course, get dark, but also, just before and after totality the patterns of the light will change completely. This is a nice way refine our models and measurements that we also do when there is not an eclipse.”
About 60 groups across the United States conducted the same experiment and will send their recorded videos of the corona to Dr. Matt Penn at the National Solar Observatory to stitch the videos together to create a 90-minute-long solar corona movie.
McNeil said this will make it possible to study the changes within the inner solar corona throughout the eclipse.
“Spacecraft can see the outer corona, but the inner corona — that’s really hard to get – it’s only done during totality,” McNeil said.
McNeil also oversaw students conducting a Modern Eddington experiment. The Eddington experiment tests Einstein’s theory of relativity by measuring how light from stars around the sun bends around the eclipsed sun.
“We already know it will, but we’re just trying to see it experimentally,” McNeil said. “We’re basically re-running the Eddington Experiment, which was done in 1919, which was the first one to actually verify Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”
McNeil said their experiment was done in collaboration with several others across the country. All their respective data will be compiled together to compare their results.
Dr. Joseph Shaw from Montana State University took the rare opportunity the eclipse offered to work with students to measure the polarization of the sky while the light of the sun was blocked by the moon.
“Polarization is like, if you use polarized sunglasses, rocking your head back and forth while looking at part of the sky, you’ll see that it goes dark and light sometimes,” Shaw said. “That’s really useful for a variety of purposes ranging from military surveillance all the way to climate science. So, there’s many scientific applications of polarization in the sky.”
Shaw and his team of BYU-Idaho and Montana State students used All-Sky Imagers, specialized cameras with fish-eye lenses, to capture the entire sky from just before sunrise to just after sunset.
Shaw said along with the imagers, they were also using a scanner to replicate an experiment his father did during the 1978 total solar eclipse. He said he hoped to use the new data to answer questions about the data his father collected.
“It’s kind of fun because it’s a father, son and student team,” Shaw said.
The BYU-Idaho physics department conducted a variety of other experiments centered around the eclipse. For more information, visit the physics department student research project web page.