From: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Published July 20, 2017 03:04 PM

NASA Looks to Solar Eclipse to Help Understand Earth's Energy System

It was midafternoon, but it was dark in an area in Boulder, Colorado on Aug. 3, 1998. A thick cloud appeared overhead and dimmed the land below for more than 30 minutes. Well-calibrated radiometers showed that there were very low levels of light reaching the ground, sufficiently low that researchers decided to simulate this interesting event with computer models. Now in 2017, inspired by the event in Boulder, NASA scientists will explore the moon’s eclipse of the sun to learn more about Earth’s energy system.

On Aug. 21, 2017, scientists are looking to this year’s total solar eclipse passing across America to improve our modelling capabilities of Earth’s energy. Guoyong Wen, a NASA scientist working for Morgan State University in Baltimore, is leading a team to gather data from the ground and satellites before, during and after the eclipse so they can simulate this year’s eclipse using an advanced computer model, called a 3-D radiative transfer model. If successful, Wen and his team will help develop new calculations that improve our estimates of the amount of solar energy reaching the ground, and our understanding of one of the key players in regulating Earth’s energy system, clouds.

Earth’s energy system is in a constant dance to maintain a balance between incoming radiation from the sun and outgoing radiation from Earth to space, which scientists call the Earth’s energy budget. The role of clouds, both thick and thin, is important in their effect on energy balance.

Like a giant cloud, the moon during the 2017 total solar eclipse will cast a large shadow across a swath of the United States. Wen and his team already know the dimensions and light-blocking properties of the moon, but will use ground and space instruments to learn how this large shadow affects the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface, especially around the edges of the shadow.

Read more at NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

Image: DSCOVR's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) will capture images similar to this one from the Lagrange 1 point, about a million miles away from Earth. Credits: NASA / Katy Mersmann

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