For most viewers, the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse will last less than two and half minutes. But for one team of NASA-funded scientists, the eclipse will last over seven minutes. Their secret? Following the shadow of the Moon in two retrofitted WB-57F jet planes.
The two planes, launching from Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will observe the total eclipse for about three and a half minutes each as they fly over Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee. By flying high in the stratosphere, observations taken with onboard telescopes will avoid looking through the majority of Earth’s atmosphere, greatly improving image quality. At the planes’ cruising altitude of 50,000 feet, the sky is 20-30 times darker than as seen from the ground, and there is much less atmospheric turbulence, allowing fine structures and motions in the Sun’s corona to be visible.