Solar Soundings

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Solar Soundings

The Sun is building toward the peak of its magnetic cycle, probably sometime this year. That’s when it produces more sunspots, flares, and giant clouds of charged particles. All of those can have an effect on our technology — knocking out satellites and power grids, disrupting radio transmissions, and more. So scientists pay close attention during these active times.

In fact, they’re planning to launch half a dozen small rockets over the next month. Three of them will look at a flare, while the others will see how a layer of Earth’s atmosphere is affected by an eclipse.

All of them are sounding rockets. They will climb above the atmosphere for a few minutes, providing glimpses that aren’t available from the ground.

The first three will launch from Alaska. They’ll head up when NASA spots a solar flare — a titanic explosion — which can erupt at any time. Two will launch close together, while the third will wait until the flare is ramping down. They’ll view what’s going on at the surface of the Sun, and in the region just above the surface. That will help scientists understand the Sun’s activity.

The eclipse missions will launch from Virginia, on April 8th. One will go up just before the eclipse, one during the eclipse, and one shortly afterward. They’ll see how the eclipse changes the ionosphere — a layer of the atmosphere that bounces radio signals around the planet — telling us more about the Sun and its impact on Earth.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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