It doesn’t matter where you’ll be during the August 21st solar eclipse, NASA plans to one-up you and capture a better photo—or at least a unique one. The space agency is actually going to chase the eclipse’s totality in two highly modified 1950s-vintage WB-57F jets, in order to capture the ‘clearest image of the sun’s […] corona to date,’ and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury.
The whole plan is detailed in the short video above, although we have to warn you, it might make you feel a little bit of gear envy—”if only I’d bought that Air Force surplus reconnaissance plane…”
Joking aside, the August 21st eclipse is a brilliant research opportunity, and NASA doesn’t plan to let it slip by unused. The two WB-57F jets have each been retrofitted with twin telescopes mounted on their noses. Using these telescopes, Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado plans to capture “the clearest images of the Sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury.”
One of the WB-57F jets is readied for a test run at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The instruments are mounted under the silver casing on the nose of the plane. Photo: NASA’s Johnson Space Center/Norah Moran
According to NASA, the jets will capture high-definition pictures at 30fps during the entire eclipse totality—which will last three times longer as the jets speed along, staying inside the moon’s shadow—from the stratosphere, avoiding interference from most of the Earths atmosphere. These photos will then be analyzed to determine why the sun’s atmosphere is so hot (millions of degrees), when the visible surface of the sun is significantly cooler (a few thousand degrees).
Before and after these observations, the scientists will also use the jets to try and capture the first-ever thermal images of Mercury—”the first attempt to map the variation of temperature across the surface of the planet.”
To find out more about this fascinating scientific (and photographic) mission, check out the video at the top or head over to the NASA website for a more detailed breakdown of what they’re looking to capture and why.