Scientist at work: Why this meteorologist is eager for an eclipse

Solar Eclipse

By all accounts a total solar eclipse is a life-changing event. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen one. Fortunately for me and millions across the US, that will change this summer.

I’m not really an eclipse expert, even though I can’t wait for August 21. I’m actually a meteorologist, and a fairly specialized one at that. Six months ago, I didn’t know the difference between an umbra and penumbra. What I did know is that the sun provides energy for everything that happens on our planet, and that the daily cycle of sun rising and setting is a key component of what happens in the atmosphere, and how air circulates locally and globally.

So why is someone who worries about subsecond- and submeter-scale winds interested in this astronomical-scale event? Because any change in incoming sun – such as the complete blackout during a total solar eclipse – will affect the energy received by the land, and in turn the energy transferred back to the atmosphere. And because the total eclipse period is short, those changes will be small. It’s both an exciting event and an interesting challenge: a scientist’s dream.

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