White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico – October 8, 2023
In a groundbreaking endeavor, NASA has revealed its plans for the upcoming annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, which will be marked by a celestial spectacle – the mesmerizing ‘ring of fire.’ Spearheading this ambitious project is Dr. Aroh Barjatya, an esteemed Indian-origin scientist and a Professor of Engineering Physics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Dr. Barjatya, also the Director of the Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Lab (SAIL), is set to lead the Atmospheric Perturbations around the Eclipse Path (APEP) sounding rocket mission.
Unravelling the Eclipse Mysteries: APEP Mission Takes Flight
The APEP mission, set to launch three rockets from NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, aims to explore the intricacies of the upper atmosphere during the eclipse phenomenon. One rocket will be launched 35 minutes before the eclipse, another during the eclipse, and the third 35 minutes after the event. The primary objective is to observe how the sudden reduction in sunlight during the eclipse impacts Earth’s ionosphere.
NASA scientists anticipate a decrease in the ionosphere’s temperature and density during the eclipse, leading to wave-like disturbances. These disturbances have the potential to disrupt crucial satellite communications and GPS systems. Dr. Barjatya emphasizes the significance of understanding these perturbations, highlighting that all satellite communications pass through the ionosphere before reaching Earth.
Rockets as Precision Instruments: The Science Behind APEP
To achieve their objectives, the APEP team has strategically chosen sounding rockets, capable of offering precise measurements from multiple locations in the ionosphere during a solar eclipse. The rockets will be equipped with small scientific instruments designed to record changes in electric and magnetic fields, density, and temperature. Positioned just outside the path of annularity, where the Moon directly aligns with the Sun, these rockets will gather data at altitudes ranging from 45 to 200 miles above Earth’s surface.
A Glimpse into the Future: A Subsequent Launch on the Horizon
The APEP project doesn’t end with the October 14 mission. Plans are underway for a subsequent launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 8, 2024, coinciding with a total solar eclipse sweeping across the United States. This launch will offer an opportunity to assess the broader effects of an eclipse, albeit from a greater distance compared to the October annular eclipse.
Significance of APEP: Advancing Space-Based Research
NASA’s APEP mission under the guidance of Dr. Barjatya represents a significant leap forward in space-based research. By unraveling the mysteries of eclipses and their impact on Earth’s ionosphere, scientists aim to enhance our understanding of space weather, ultimately benefiting satellite communications and navigation systems that society heavily relies upon.
As the world eagerly anticipates the celestial marvel on October 14, scientists and researchers, led by Dr. Aroh Barjatya, stand prepared to delve into the heart of the eclipse, unraveling its secrets and advancing our knowledge of Earth’s atmospheric phenomena.