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Solar Eclipse: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Sun’s Corona

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Photo: Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute

An annular solar eclipse is set to occur on the 8th (local time), sweeping across Mexico, the United States, and eastern Canada. Areas under the path of the moon’s shadow will experience up to 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the eclipse’s darkness.

An eclipse is a phenomenon where the moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking the sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the entire sun is obscured. This time, the eclipse cannot be observed from South Korea. In Lampasas, Texas, the eclipse will occur from 12:18 p.m. to 2:58 p.m. on the 8th, lasting 2 hours and 40 minutes. The total obscuration period will be 4 minutes and 26 seconds.

The next annular eclipse will pass through Iceland and Spain on August 12, 2026 (local time). An annular eclipse visible from the Korean peninsula will occur around 9:40 a.m. on September 2, 2035. It can be observed in some areas, including Pyongyang in North Korea and Goseong in Gangwon Province. In Seoul, it will be a partial eclipse.

An annular eclipse is the only opportunity to study the sun’s corona (the outermost region of the solar atmosphere) from the ground. The bright photosphere of the sun usually makes it impossible to observe this layer.

The most representative challenges in solar research lie in corona temperature heating and solar wind acceleration principles. Although the sun’s temperature decreases from the center to the outer part, the outer atmospheric part, the corona, is heated to several million degrees.

The solar wind travels tens of kilometers per second from the sun’s surface. Once it passes through the corona and reaches Earth, it accelerates to hundreds of kilometers per second.

To uncover the sun’s secrets, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute will dispatch two observation teams to Lampasas and Leakey in Texas during this eclipse. They will study the corona, the outer atmospheric part of the sun that can be observed during the eclipse, and conduct the final ground observation for the core research of the Coronal Diagnostic Experiment (CODEX), jointly developed with NASA for a coronagraph for the International Space Station.

NASA’s coronagraph development. [Photo: Astronomy and Space Science Institute]

The two observation teams will attempt to observe the low corona area, ranging from 1 to 4 solar radii, using the polarizing camera and new spectropolariscope, the core technologies of the CODEX set to be launched this September. Observations will be conducted in two places approximately 124 miles (200 kilometers) apart to reduce the risk of observation failure due to poor weather.

The first observation team, the Astronomy and Space Science Institute-NASA annular eclipse observation team, will use a space-polarizing camera developed by the Astronomy and Space Science Institute and a camera without a polarizing function. The second observation team from the institute will measure the temperature and velocity of electrons and ions, as well as the polarization information of dust particles, using a new spectropolariscope (CORIFS and SOMSPECT) in Leakey, Texas.

The CODEX, developed jointly by the Astronomy and Space Science Institute and NASA, is the world’s first coronagraph designed to create 2D images by simultaneously observing the temperature and velocity of the sun’s corona in space.

Dr. Kim Yeon Han, who is in charge of CODEX’s development at the institute, said, “The CODEX, jointly developed with NASA, will contribute to solving the mysteries of coronal heating and solar wind acceleration, which are considered challenges in solar research,” and added, “Testing new observation techniques and new observatories during an annular eclipse is an essential process before launching observatories into space, and it has significant scientific and technological implications as our country prepares for space exploration with the establishment of the Korea Aerospace Administration”

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