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MU Professors Receive Grant to Conduct Research During Solar Eclipse

Francis Quadrangle on the MU campus
Francis Quadrangle on the MU campus

Around 1 p.m. on August 21, the sky will go dark over Columbia. But Dr. Angela Speck, director of astronomy and professor of Astrophysics at the University of Missouri, says darkness is not the only result of a total solar eclipse.

“When an eclipse happens, it’s not just, ‘Oh, we can see stars during the day,’” Speck said. “There’s also an effect on the temperature of the atmosphere, on how that cooling affects what the atmosphere does.”

Speck and MU Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science Bo Svoma are the lead researchers on a project they will conduct during the eclipse. Earlier this month, NASA awarded them a grant of about $50,000 for their research.

Speck said part of the reason they received the grant is because she co-chairs a national task force of astronomers and other professionals who are preparing for the eclipse. She is traveling the state giving speeches to recruit about 50 volunteers from the public, or “citizen scientists,” to measure the air temperature in Columbia before, during and after the eclipse.

Svoma wrote the grant proposal and will direct the research after the volunteers collect the temperature data. He said they will hang temperature sensors from trees and record the air temperature over a five-day period, with the eclipse happening on the third day.

The weather in August is expected to be sunny, but Svoma said the researchers will still be able to collect workable data even if it’s overcast or rainy during the collection period.

He said scientists will be able to use the temperature data to ensure the accuracy of weather models.

“We can take an atmospheric model and put a solar eclipse into it, but we wouldn’t know for sure if the model worked correctly,” Svoma said. “We can only get a data set like this during an eclipse, so it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, really.”