NSF News

NSF supporting once-in-a-generation science enabled by total solar eclipse

As the total solar eclipse on April 8 draws near, the U.S. National Science Foundation will be celebrating this celestial occasion — which won't be visible from North America again until 2044 — by sponsoring educational activities and experiments across the country.  In addition to the previously announced events at the Fair Park Cotton Bowl® Stadium in Dallas, the Solar Eclipse Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the eclipse livestream co-hosted with the NSF National Solar Observatory on YouTube, NSF is supporting research made possible by the moon's blocking of the sun's bright light. This occurrence offers a rare window for professional and amateur astronomers alike to study the sun's outer atmosphere — the source of space weather and phenomena like solar wind and magnetic storms. 

The Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse 2024 experiment will mobilize about 40 teams of local community participants, or "citizen scientists," who will capture continuous observations from the path of totality (where the sun will be completely blocked by the moon) of the lower to middle regions of the sun's corona (its outermost layer). 

The experiment has three objectives: 

  • Determine the connectivity of structures that span the middle corona 
  • Measure the flow of nascent solar wind by characterizing small-scale dynamics that occur during the eclipse. 
  • Identify and characterize features and dynamics related to magnetic energy release processes in the solar corona.  

During the eclipse, NSF-funded researchers plan to collect high-altitude observations of the infrared radiation streaming out of the solar corona using the NSF National Center for Atmospheric Research (NSF NCAR) Gulfstream V research aircraft, which will fly along the path of totality carrying the Airborne Coronal Emissions Surveyor. A full accounting of all of NSF NCAR's eclipse projects can be found here.

In addition to these experiments, NSF funds year-round solar research through centers like the NSF National Solar Observatory, which operates the U.S. National Science Foundation Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and other telescopes around that globe, providing 24/7 observations on the sun and its activity. The Inouye Solar Telescope, using its coronagraphic capabilities, will co-observe the solar corona during the time of totality in the continent. 

The educational eclipse livestream, produced by NSF in collaboration with the NSO, features the NSF Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and several NSO solar scientists. This is a free resource that teachers can use in their classrooms to share the excitement of science. 

NSF has also released free videos and podcasts on the eclipse and sun for teachers to use in their classrooms to get students excited about solar and space science. Hear solar expert and NSF Program Director Carrie Black and solar physicist Dr. Maria Kazachenko answer questions about eclipses, "solar weather" and how and why we study the sun.