Shadia Habbal: Pursuing the Solar Wind

By observing a total solar eclipse, astronomers hope to solve one of the Sun’s biggest mysteries: why is the Sun’s outer atmosphere, its corona, at one million degrees or more, while its surface is at 6000 C?

Judd Johnson and Shadia Habbal with camera equipment used to observe solar eclipses.

Visible only during a total solar eclipse, the corona seems to be shaped by plumes and streams of gas that flow outward into space, forming the solar wind. The solar wind shapes the tails of comets, is responsible for the aurorae seen near the Earth’s polar regions, and shapes the environments of planets in the solar system.

Shadia Habbal and her team of “Solar Wind Sherpas” observe total solar eclipses whenever and wherever they occur. They use specially designed cameras to image the solar corona and probe the behavior of the different elements under the influence of the coronal magnetic fields.

“Total solar eclipses offer unique observing opportunities for probing the evolution of magnetic structures starting from the solar surface out to several solar radii, and for investigating the behavior of the different components of the ionized gas forming the corona. The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, which will traverse the US continent, will offer unique opportunities for conducting a range of scientific experiments during totality.” — Shadia Habbal