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The Daily Ittefaq

The eclipse's 4-minute window into the Sun's secrets

Update : 07 Apr 2024, 14:22

Eclipse fever is building. Millions in North America are hoping to spend around four minutes of total darkness as the Moon blocks the Sun's light on Monday.

For some, those precious minutes will be an opportunity for often impossible science experiments - a chance to unravel the secrets of our universe.

Researchers will fly rockets into the path of the eclipse, stand in zoos watching animals, send radio signals across the globe, and peer into space with massive cameras.

And you don't need to be a scientist to take part.

But it could still go wrong. A solar flare or even some humble clouds could throw those plans into turmoil. 

Possibilities of mating turtles or snoozing gorillas
Prof Adam Hartstone-Rose from North Carolina State University will spend Monday at the zoo in Fort Worth, Texas.

He'll be looking out for strange behaviours in animals from gorillas to giraffes to Galapagos turtles. Spoiler: during the 2017 eclipse, the turtles suddenly started mating.

Lots of animals appear to have anxious responses to the sudden darkness.

"The flamingos last time did a beautiful thing," he says. "As the eclipse was building, the adults gathered the chicks into the middle of the flock, and looked into the sky as if they were worried about an aerial predator coming down." 

The gorillas, meanwhile, moved to where they sleep and began their bedtime routines, as circadian rhythms were disrupted.

One nocturnal bird called a Tawny Frogmouth woke up from where it usually camouflages as a rotting tree stump. It started looking for food, and then suddenly went back into disguise when the sun re-appeared.

Anyone can join the experiment. If you see pets, farm animals or wild animals behaving unusually during the eclipse, you can tell Mark's team online.

The team will have almost instant results and will publish their findings in the days after the eclipse.

A glimpse into roaring plasma
When darkness falls on parts of North America, one part of the Sun will peek out that people have been trying to study for centuries - its atmosphere, or corona. 

This mysterious part of the Sun is made up of magnetised plasma and measures more than a million degrees Celsius. 

Normally the Sun's incredible brightness makes the corona impossible to see, but on Monday scientists in Dallas, Texas, will be able to point instruments at it and take images.

Scientists with Aberystwyth University in Wales and from Nasa hope for an insight into solar wind, which is the plasma thrown from the Sun's surface. Another puzzle is why the corona seems to be much hotter than the Sun's surface, despite being on its edge.

They might even see what is called a coronal mass ejection, when huge plasma clouds are thrown from the atmosphere into Space. Ejections can cause problems for satellites we use on Earth. 

A lot of money, time and logistics have gone into that four-minute window, says Huw Morgan, professor of Physics at Aberystwyth University.

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