Friday, 1 August 2008

Eclipses solve scientific puzzles


August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: Eclipses may have inspired awe in God or thrown people into superstitions, but they are natural events most looked forward to by scientists.
Eclipses have always helped scientists to study Mother Nature including its eautiful Earth and awe-inspiring skies, besides serving as natural tools to solve many a scientific puzzle that have racked the human brain for centuries.
Astrophysicists have utilised eclipses to make astronomical calculations or to discover new elements. They have also studied the rays of the sun and the spectrometre.
The eclipse that occurred on August 16, 1868 helped Sir Joseph Lockyer and Monsieur Pierre Janssen to independently discover helium gas in the corona of the Sun. elium, incidentally, is the first chemical element to be discovered outside the Earth.
Albert Einstein is famous for his theory of relativity. And the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 helped scientists prove that Einstein was right. Scientists showed that gravity can bend light.
"Eclipses help us in many ways. Scientists stand to benefit the most as eclipses provide an opportunity for them to photograph and study the composition of the Sun's corona. Eclipse come handy to calculate the exact dimensions of the Sun," Osmania University Professor of astronomy Dr G Yellaiah told this correspondent.
On February 16, 1980 during the solar eclipse scientists have observed the variations in temperature on earth through radio study. They also studied the corona of the Sun. It provides an wonderful opportunity to study the elements on the father of the solar system.
NASA scientists specialising in ultra violet imaging plan to examine changes in the upper atmosphere by modelling the changes in airglow seen during the eclipse. Airglow is just that, an effect caused by solar ultraviolet light striking the atmosphere.
By observing how the glow is extinguished then ignited as the Moon's shadow moves across the globe, astrophysicists hope that they will be able to estimate oxygen densities at different altitudes in the upper atmosphere.

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