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  • Editor's Note

    Patience is one virtue scientists must embrace

    There’s a lot of waiting in science. Collecting and interpreting evidence demands skill and commitment, creativity and curiosity — and time. Though Saturn has been known since ancient times, Galileo first observed it with a telescope in 1610. He saw the rings, but didn’t identify them as such. Not until the 1650s did Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens report a flat ring around Saturn. The...

    08/23/2017 - 16:01 Science & Society, Astronomy
  • Science Ticker

    Today is the day! A last-minute guide for watching the Great American Eclipse

    Just a stab in the dark, but you’ve probably heard: There is a total solar eclipse today, August 21.

    For the first time since 1979, the moon’s shadow will zip across the continental United States. The shadow will travel from Oregon to South Carolina in a swift 92 minutes. For those in the path of totality, total darkness will last only a couple of minutes. There and elsewhere in most of...

    08/21/2017 - 06:00 Science & Society
  • News

    Eclipse watchers will go after the biggest solar mystery: Why is the corona so hot?

    A total solar eclipse shines a light on the sun's elusive atmosphere. When the moon blocks the sun, it’s finally possible to see how this diffuse cloud of plasma, called the corona, is magnetically sculpted into beautiful loops. The material there is about a trillionth the density of the solar surface. From its delicate and diaphanous appearance, you might expect the corona to be where the sun...

    08/20/2017 - 06:00 Astronomy, Science & Society, Physics
  • News

    Does the corona look different when solar activity is high versus when it’s low?

    Some cities have all the luck.

    Carbondale, Ill., is just a few kilometers north of the point where this year’s total solar eclipse will linger longest — the city will get two minutes and 38 seconds of total darkness when the moon blocks out the sun. And it’s the only city in the United States that will also be in the path of totality when the next total solar eclipse crosses North...

    08/19/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Physics, Science & Society, Earth
  • News

    Where does the solar wind come from? The eclipse may offer answers

    The sun can’t keep its hands to itself. A constant flow of charged particles streams away from the sun at hundreds of kilometers per second, battering vulnerable planets in its path.

    This barrage is called the solar wind, and it has had a direct role in shaping life in the solar system. It’s thought to have stripped away much of Mars’ atmosphere (SN: 4/29/17, p. 20). Earth is protected...

    08/18/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Science & Society, Physics
  • News

    Why are the loops in the sun’s atmosphere so neat and tidy?

    View the video

    When the Aug. 21 solar eclipse unveils the sun’s normally dim atmosphere, the corona will look like an intricate, orderly network of loops, fans and streamers. These features trace the corona’s magnetic field, which guides coronal plasma to take on the shape of tubes and sheets.

    These wispy coronal structures arise from the magnetic field on the sun’s visible surface...

    08/17/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Earth, Science & Society, Physics
  • News

    What can the eclipse tell us about the corona’s magnetic field?

    View the video

    The star of any solar eclipse is, of course, the sun. And total eclipses give the sun’s wispy, tenuous atmosphere the spotlight. This region, called the corona, is normally too dim to observe directly. But with the moon blocking the sun’s bright disk, the corona comes into view.

    And the view is dazzling. The corona’s hot plasma is a radiant, ever-changing tiara, full...

    08/16/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Earth, Science & Society, Physics
  • News

    Can the eclipse tell us if Einstein was right about general relativity?

    Almost a century ago, a solar eclipse revealed the geometry of spacetime. Now, physicists and amateur astronomers — armed with do-it-yourself gear — are going to double check that math during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

    In his 1915 general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein predicted that the sun’s gravity should distort spacetime in its vicinity. Stars behind the sun would appear in...

    08/15/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Science & Society, Physics
  • News

    What can we learn about Mercury’s surface during the eclipse?

    On the morning of August 21, a pair of jets will take off from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to chase the shadow of the moon. They will climb to 15 kilometers in the stratosphere and fly in the path of the total solar eclipse over Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee at 750 kilometers per hour.

    But some of the instruments the jets carry won’t be looking at the sun, or even at Earth...

    08/14/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Earth, Science & Society, Planetary Science
  • News

    What happens in Earth’s atmosphere during an eclipse?

    As the moon’s shadow races across North America on August 21, hundreds of radio enthusiasts will turn on their receivers — rain or shine. These observers aren’t after the sun. They’re interested in a shell of electrons hundreds of kilometers overhead, which is responsible for heavenly light shows, GPS navigation and the continued existence of all earthly beings.

    This part of the...

    08/13/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy, Earth, Science & Society