For the casual observer Monday's eclipse will be a cool experience; a chance to take in something many of us haven’t seen.
But for researchers it will be a chance to conduct potentially groundbreaking research.
“These will be, or have the potential to be, the best observations of their kind to date,” said Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.
Caspi is leading a team of dozens of engineers and scientists who will fly two WB-57 jets along the eclipse’s path of totality. The idea is to snap pictures of the eclipse during totality and observe the sun’s outer atmosphere, also known as the corona.
“I am ultimately responsible for the success or failure of this mission," Caspi said. “We are going to be looking for waves traveling through the solar corona; basically like ripples in a pond… It is important for our understanding of whether life is possible around other stars.”
The pictures will be taken 50,000 feet above ground. At that height the jets will be above 80 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, which will offer a clarity greater than any photo taken at ground level.
Theoretically these pictures can be taken during any total solar eclipse, but many happen in far remote places of the world every few years so rarely is one this accessible with the modern advances in technology.
“It's bricks in a foundation. We're building a foundation [of research]. We need another brick and this is that brick,” Caspi said.
The sun’s surface burns at more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Its corona burns at more than 1,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The research will help understand why the corona burns much hotter, and why its heat affects things like Earth’s magnetic field.