A composite video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series Solar Ultraviolet Imager instrument shows small-scale jetlet activity at the base of the solar corona. This can be seen in the wavy structures emanating from the surface of the Sun. The observations were made over the course of approximately 10 hours on April 28, 2021. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/GOES-R

SAN FRANCISCO – Researchers will have rare opportunities over the next year to study solar flares and coronal mass ejections, observations that could lead to improved space weather forecasts.

During the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse, NASA will gather data on the sun’s corona from instruments mounted on satellites, aircraft and sounding rockets.

“The moon is a perfect coronagraph,” Kelly Korreck, NASA eclipse program manager, said Dec. 11 at the American Geophysical Union conference here.

NASA researchers will compare computer models of the sun’s corona with imagery gathered during the eclipse from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency-NASA Solar Orbiter.

The various perspectives will give researchers a “3D understanding of the corona as well because you can triangulate a lot of different structures that we see from Earth and in another direction from the Solar Orbiter,” said Amir Caspi, Southwest Research Institute principal scientist.

In addition, NASA will gather multispectral coronal imagery from instruments sent aloft on a pair of WB-57F jets. And sounding rockets launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, will eject magnetometers, accelerometers and other instruments to monitor the ionosphere.

“Now instead of validating models with just one view, we can validate them with multiple views,” Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

Parker’s Close Approach

Launched in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe’s closest solar approach is set for Dec. 24, 2024. At that time, the probe will be 6.1 million kilometers from the sun’s surface. For comparison, Mercury is 58 million kilometers from the sun.

By traveling closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe could obtain observations that help explain perplexing solar activity.

“The solar corona by nature is so mysterious,” Raouafi said. “It is over 300 times hotter than the solar surface. That is absolutely counterintuitive because from everyday experience, if you are getting away from the heat source, it cools down.”

Another mystery is the flow of ions and electrons traveling more than 3 million kilometers per hour from the sun.

“Where do they get the energy to be accelerated so fast?” Raouafi said.

Atmospheric Waves

Additional data related to space weather is being gathered by the NASA Atmospheric Waves Experiment. AWE traveled to the International Space Station in November aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket cargo resupply mission.

“Gravity waves that arise from tropospheric weather can grow in amplitude enormously because of decreasing density and can have enormous effects at high altitudes,” said Dave Fritts, vice president of atmospheric research for GATS, a company in Newport News, Virginia. Data gathered by AWE “will enable predictions of these waves propagating to very high altitudes,” he added.

At high altitudes, gravity waves may have “very important impacts in the thermosphere, the ionosphere and the lower space weather environment,” Fritts said. “There’s even the potential that capabilities like this can contribute to predictive capabilities down the road.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is...