While many Americans are tracking down eclipse glasses to watch the Moon pass the sun on Monday, a group of researchers at Oklahoma State University and the University of Nebraska are prepping a squad of drones that will fly under the eclipse’s shadow Monday and watch for changing weather patterns. The researchers hope to glean some data on how an eclipse alters the sun’s heating of the atmosphere and, in the process, alters weather.
The drones will carry sensors that read temperature, humidity, air pressure, and wind patterns. The researchers plan to fly them throughout the entire day and compare their data with data from ground-based stations and weather balloons situated lower in the sky.
According to the researchers, the sun heats different pockets of the Earth’s surface to differing degrees, and these temperature differences give rise to all types of weather events, from mild breezes to tropical storms. The fluctuations are most acute at the day-night boundary, where the half of the planet facing away from the sun and thus experiencing nighttime meets the sun-facing half that is experiencing day.
“It may sound relatively simple but essentially you take away that radiation, that heat in a certain area,” said Jamey Jacob, an Oklahoma State University professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “It starts to cool down, as it cools down you essentially get a giant sucking effect from the hot air around and into this colder region.”
Jacob and fellow researchers see the eclipse as a great opportunity to study these temperature shifts, he explained. Since an eclipse temporarily blocks much of the sun’s rays, it might recreate the day-night boundary and the weather impacts that come with it.