NASA releases eclipse watch tool to show continuous solar eclipse from space

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New Delhi: During a solar eclipse, the Moon covers the face of the Sun, revealing the solar corona or its outer atmosphere. The corona is generally invisible as it is hidden by the glare of the Sun. NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) stares into the Sun continuously, and uses a coronagraph to create a perpetual artificial eclipse. The coronagraph allows the observatory to investigate the solar corona, even where isn’t an eclipse. ‘

The Helioviewer app provides the general public with the latest images captured by SOHO. The observatory captures over a hundred images of the Sun every day. The Helioviewer eclipse watch app presents near-realtime images captured by SOHO through the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO) payload on baord. The coronagraph blocks out a larger portion of the Sun than the Moon.

NASA has overlaid an image of the Moon over the coronagraph for context, and to provide scales. Observers on the Earth will be able to view more of the Sun than LASCO does. Observing the Sun during the solar eclipse without protective eyewear can cause permanent damage, which is why it is reccomended to use solar eclipse glasses.

Those interested in trying out the tool can do so by clicking this link.

A brief history of SOHO

SOHO is a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The observatory was launched on 2 December, 1995, on board a Lockheed Martin Atlas IIAS launch vehicle. The observatory has made significant contributions to solar research, and has been used to detect over 5,000 sungrazing comets.

SOHO has been operational for over 25 years in space, far surpassing its initial planned mission duration of two years. The mission has been extended till at least the end of 2025. The spacecraft empowers humans to predict severe space weather. The observatory is located in the first Lagrange point (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, at a distance of 0.99 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and 0.01 AU from the Earth.

The tool displays the latest images from the spacecraft. For context and illustration purposes, an image of the Moon is overlaid over the coronagraph. During the solar eclipse, scientists can track the soup of energetic particles streaming out of the Sun, known as solar wind.

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