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Tucson researchers will study Sun from 47,000 feet during total solar eclipse

A group of Tucson researchers are planning to take off in a Gulfstream plane to study the sun during the rare total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8.

Chad Madsen is an astrophysicist with Harvard & Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics. He said researchers will take off from Tucson toward central Texas, following the eclipse’s path of totality at 47,000 feet. The path of totality is the shadow where the moon completely blocks the sun.

“So, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna be flying to that location,” said Madsen. “We’re actually going to go into a holding pattern, and then we’re going to fly parallel to the eclipse and kind of just let the eclipse roll over us.”

While they won’t be able to keep up with the eclipse, which Madsen said moves at about 1,500 miles per hour across the ground, they should be able to keep up just enough.

“We are going fast enough to where we will get, I think, two extra minutes of totality compared to people on the ground,” he said. “So we’ll be getting about six minutes of observation, as opposed to on the ground where you’ll only get about four.”

According to Madsen, it's all so they can better characterize the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere.

“Specifically, we want to characterize the magnetic field of the corona,” Madsen said.

The expedition, he explained, “is more of an exploratory mission to figure out what information we can use for future missions.”

Compared to the 2017 solar eclipse, this one’s path of totality is expected to be almost 60% wider, and the eclipse itself is projected to last about 60% longer.

The eclipse will start around 11:30 a.m. Arizona time.

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.