On August 21st, a rare total solar eclipse will make its way across the United States. What makes this eclipse even rarer is that it will cut right across the middle of the country, from Oregon to South Carolina, giving millions of Americans a chance to see this once in a lifetime event. (Click here to see if your state is in the path of the eclipse).
As you would expect, NASA is taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity as much as possible. NASA has loaded up two WB-57F jets with telescopes and advanced imaging equipment and plans to chase the Moon’s shadow across America with them.
The WB-57F jets were originally designed during the Cold War for bombing and reconnaissance missions. NASA bought two of these jets and heavily upgraded both with modern equipment and avionics for their research purposes.
The pilots will certainly have their hands full as they chase the Moon’s shadow. Besides the eclipse itself, NASA hopes to study Mercury as well as the Sun’s atmosphere during this mission.
The NASA jets are not what you would call slow. Each jet can travel well over 600 mph, but there is a slight problem. The Moon’s shadow will travel across the ground at over 2,400 mph. Even at their top speed, the Moon will leave these jets in the dust. Because of this, NASA will give their jets a head start as they leave NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and intercept the shadow as it crosses Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee.
Under the shadow of the Moon, astronomers will have a brief window to get a rare glimpse of the planet Mercury, and NASA’s jets will have the best view possible. The Moon blocking direct sunlight will also help NASA study the Sun’s surrounding atmosphere like never before.
Check out this video from NASA about this exciting mission!