Astronomers Return from Successful Eclipse Observation

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 14, 2010 — Williams College astronomer Jay Pasachoff and students Muzhou Lu and Craig Malamut returned to the United States in triumph, following their successful observing of the July 11 total solar eclipse from Easter Island. They observed the eclipse in clear skies from that remote island, 2500 miles west of the South American coast, in mid-Pacific. The island, part of Chile, is famous for its colossal statues, moai, which were in the background in the series of photographs taken of the team by a National Geographic Channel television crew.

The Pasachoff-Lu-Malamut team, working closely with astronomer Steven Souza in Williamstown, was also successful in July 3 observations from the observatory in Santiago, Chile, of the passage of Pluto in front of a star. The unusual event was part of a continuing effort of a Williams College-MIT consortium to study Pluto’s atmosphere, in preparation for the arrival of a NASA spacecraft there in 2015. Souza, the Observatory Supervisor at Williams, ran the data-acquisition software for the observing remotely from Williamstown. Lu is a Williams College incoming sophomore, and Malamut is a Wesleyan University incoming junior, working at Williams through the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium.

The Pasachoff-Lu-Malamut team worked on Easter Island with Marek Demianski, visiting professor of astronomy, and colleagues from the U.S., Australia, Greece, and India. They were carrying out high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy of the sun’s corona, uniquely visible from Earth during an eclipse. Working with Steele Hill of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, they have now released a composite photo, with their eclipse image of the inner and middle corona filling in the gap in spacecraft coverage, with the outer corona supplied from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory of NASA and the European Space Agency, and the structure in the corona silhouetted against the sun’s disk from ultraviolet observations from NASA’s new Solar Dynamics Observatory, launched in February.

The National Geographic Channel show aired the night of the eclipse, including pre-recorded images of Pasachoff with students Katie DuPré and Ng Tam joined with same-day images of the eclipse team and the eclipse itself uploaded from a satellite dish that the TV crew had brought. Along with their satellite dish and other television equipment, they had shipped ahead eight cases of Pasachoff’s eclipse equipment.

The 1-hour National Geographic Channel show (channel 201 in Williamstown and North Adams) will be repeated on Thursday, July 15, at 10 p.m., on Friday, July 16, at 1 a.m., and on Thursday, July 22, at 6 p.m.

Partial support for Craig Malamut’s involvement was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Awards to Stimulate and Support Undergraduate Research Education program in collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Partial support for Muzhou Lu was received from NASA’s Massachusetts Space Grant.

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Eclipse 2010 Composite

A solar eclipse photo (gray and white) from the Williams College Expedition to Easter Island in the South Pacific (July 11, 2010) was embedded into an image of the Sun’s outer corona taken by the Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) and shown in red false color. LASCO uses a disk to blot out the bright sun and the inner corona so that the faint outer corona can be monitored and studied. Further, the dark silhouette of the moon was covered with an image of the Sun taken in extreme ultraviolet light at about the same time by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The composite brings out the correlation of structures in the inner and outer corona.

Credits: Williams College Eclipse Expedition — Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu, and Craig Malamut; SOHO’s LASCO image courtesy of NASA/ESA and Naval Research Laboratory; solar disk image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory; compositing by Steele Hill, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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For information, contact Jay Pasachoff, [email protected], cell: 617 285 6351.

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Published July 14, 2010