IAF, Astrophysicists ready to conduct Solar eclipse experiment
New Delhi (PTI): Solar eclipse trackers located on the ground will not be the only ones studying the spectacle slated for on Wednesday as the IAF and astrophysicists will conduct experiments and take photos of the celestial event from a fighter jet and a transport aircraft.
A Mirage-2000 fighter jet and an AN-32 medium lift transport aircraft would be flown by IAF pilots to assist scientists from Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous body of the Department of Science and Technology, to carry out the experiments, IAF officials said on Tuesday.
"While the Mirage would fly out from Gwalior, the AN-32 will fly from Agra. The aircraft will fly towards Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, and while in flight the experiments and the filming of the total solar eclipse will be carried out," they said here.
Scientists from Noida-based Vigyan Prasar, Udaipur-based Solar Observatory and Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics would participate in the experiments and the filming.
"Four scientists from these institutions and six-member crew from Doordarshan will fly on board the AN-32 and they would do the experiments and filming with the rear ramp of the aircraft open. Since they will be flying at very high altitudes, oxygen masks would be used during the flight," the officials said.
The IAF teams, scientists and the DD crew members reached the air base from where the AN-32 would conduct a trial run.
This year's eclipse will be visible in parts of India from Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. The eclipse corridor will pass close to Gwalior air base.
The last time IAF pilots did such a feat was in 1995, chasing the umbra shadow during the total Solar eclipse on October 24.
Air Marshal S Mukerji, Air Officer-in-charge Personnel (AOP) at Air Headquarters, was the then Commanding Officer of IAFs only Mig-25 Squadron based in Bareilly.
Then a Group Captain, Air Marshal Mukerji had the rare opportunity to fly the Mig-25 on that day to film the Sun's corona from an astounding altitude of 80,000 feet, straight from the Stratosphere.
"We flew at Mach 2.5 in the path of the eclipse at 80,000 feet along the planned central axis of the eclipse over Neemkathana, near Agra," recalled Air Marshal Mukerji of his historic sortie that finds a mention in his flying log book plainly as — 'Supersonic Profile'.
Despite a top speed of Mach 3.2, it was not quick enough to catch-up with the umbra shadow that notched Mach 5, on that occasion.
This time a high speed chase would not be necessary as the speed of the umbra shadow over Gulf of Khambhat begins with Mach 50-60, slowing down to Mach 20 near Bhopal, said Dr Vinay B. Kamble, Vigyan Prasar Director, who is coordinating with the IAF to capture the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century.
"This year's eclipse is significant for its long duration as also that the next eclipse will be in 2034, over Kashmir valley for a short duration over India. The total solar eclipse after that will only be in 2114," said Mr. Kamble.
Among other senior scientists involved in the experiment with the IAF include Prof. P. Venkatakrishnan, Shibu Matthews from Udaipur Solar Observatory; Prof. K.E. Rangarajan and B. Ravindra from Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore.
The eclipse begins on Wednesday at 5.28 am when the shadow of the moon touches the Earth at a point in the Arabian Sea close to the western coast of India.
The eclipse ends at l0.42 am when Moon's shadow finally leaves the Earth at a point in the South Pacific Ocean.
At approximately 6.23 am, the umbra of the eclipse will touch the earth at sunrise at a point in the Gulf of Khambhat in the Arabian Sea near the southern coast of Gujarat.
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