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Sharing a summer of Sun-watching - ECLIPSE99

Sharing a summer of Sun-watching - ECLIPSE99

21 June 1999

On the day of the summer solstice, ESA Science web site launches its eclipse pageToday at Stonehenge (England) and other ancient observatories across Europe, sunrise was in line with stony structures that identify the longest day. The summer solstice has been, for thousands of years, a time to pay respect to the Sun which powers the life and weather of the Earth. The European Space Agency marks this year's summer solstice in a modern way, with the introduction of a special ECLIPSE99 service on ESA's science web site, looking forward to the next major event in the solar calendar: the total eclipse of the Sun on 11 August.

As from today, all the visitors of ESA's science web site can now find a wealth of information about eclipses, including videos and other surprises, and about related activities.

By building the Ulysses and SOHO solar spacecraft, and the four Cluster II satellites, ESA has become the leader in the scientific investigation of the Sun and the Sun-Earth connection. It accepts a corresponding responsibility to keep the public informed. Services for the media and the public are at the top of the agenda for the ECLIPSE99 International Science Committee*, which is coordinating eclipse-related activities across all Europe. The chairman is ESA's Director of Science, Roger Bonnet.

"For most people a total eclipse of the Sun is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Roger Bonnet says. "We seize this chance to achieve a new cameraderie between scientists and the general public, when we share a common experience and celebrate the most inspiring show on Earth, both for our emotions and our minds."

"During our previous eclipse expeditions, we faced a huge public demand for information about the Sun, the Solar System, astronomy and the relation of mankind to the cosmos", says Bernard H. Foing, ESA ECLIPSE99 coordinator. "This eclipse gives an opportunity to stimulate the interest of the European people, especially young people, for science, space and technology. ESA and its ECLIPSE99 partners have prepared activities to answer this cultural and social demand for science at the eclipse, and also for future space events into the next millennium".

As the big day approaches, images from the SOHO spacecraft will preview the breathtaking streaks in the Sun's hot atmosphere, or corona. "We have several instruments on SOHO which observe the solar corona in extreme ultraviolet light", says Bernhard Fleck, SOHO Project Scientist, "while others called coronagraphs use a special masks to blot out the light from the bright solar disk, giving us an artificial eclipse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Allowing us to detect the faint coronal glow far from the disk". Stationed far beyond the orbit of the Moon, SOHO will not experience the eclipse. Its non-stop observations of the Sun's visible face and atmosphere, before, during and after the eclipse, will help scientists to interpret activity at the edge of the Sun, as seen from the ground.

On the day, the shadow of the Moon will pass in one hour over Europe from Cornwall (UK) to Black Sea, including Plymouth, Le Havre, Strasbourg, Stuttgard, Munich, Graz, Timisoara and Bucharest. Each place favoured with a total eclipse will see the Sun blacked out for about two minutes. Only then will the straylight from the Earth atmosphere disappear for a very brief night, allowing us to see stars, planets and the faint glowing extended corona. The Moon fits very neatly over the visible solar disk, so scientists and public observing from the ground will have briefly a detailed and sharp view of the lowest regions of Sun's atmosphere (inner corona). Ground-based instruments will also be able to take high-rate pictures, and reveal activity in the Sun's atmosphere on timescales of seconds or less.

ESA's Space Science Department will, in coordination with SOHO and other institutes in Europe and beyond, observe the eclipse with special video cameras and filters, from several sites along the line of totality in UK, France, Germany, Hungary and Romania. A prime site for ESA's ground team will be at Szombathely (Hungary) which is also the location of a camp for young Europeans who will learn about astronomy as well as watching the eclipse.

Before the eclipse, images from the Meteosat weather satellite and the latest cloud cover predictions, will help scientists and public to plan the travel and operations to the best eclipse viewing sites. Latest images from the SOHO spacecraft and from instruments on the ground will be flashed to TV broadcasters, while journalists and the public will have rapid access to the images via the Internet. Scientists speaking the languages of ESA's Member States will be on duty on the eclipse day, to report on what's happening and to answer questions. There will be close liaison with the museums and science centres across Europe that are planning special activities on 11 August.  

And not just today!

During the seven weeks remaining before the event, the ECLIPSE99 website will be continually updated with further information and plans. On 11 August and after, the emphasis will be on the space-based and ground-based observations and on any inferences drawn from them. So smart eclipse watchers and reporters will be wise to find their way to ECLIPSE99 and "bookmark" it for rapid access.

Principal Contact Persons for ECLIPSE99:

Bernard Foing, ECLIPSE99 Coordinator, ESA Space Science Department - Solar System Division
Tel: +31 (0)71 565 5647
Fax: +31 (0)71 565 4697
(spoken languages: French, English, Spanish)

Bernhard Fleck, SOHO Project Scientist, ESA Space Science Department - Solar System Division
Tel: +1 301 286 4098
(spoken languages: German, English)

Hugo Maree, ESA Public Relations Division
Tel: +33 (0)
Fax: +33 (0)
(spoken languages: French, English, Dutch)

Monica Talevi, ESA Science Programme Communication Service
Tel: +31 (0)71 565 3223
Fax: +31 (0)71 565 3518
Email: (spoken languages: Italian, English)

*ECLIPSE99 International Scientific Organising Committee

R.M. Bonnet (chairman), ESA Director of Science Programme B.H. Foing (co-chairman), ESA ECLIPSE99 coordinator, ESA Space Science Department

A. Acker, ULP Strasbourg, Presidente Association des Planetariums E. Antonucci, Professor, Torino observatory J. Audouze, Director, Palais de la Dicouverte, Paris F. Clette, chairman JOSO eclipse working group R. Ferlet, President Societe Astronomique de France B. Fleck, ESA, SOHO Project Scientist M. Huber, Head ESA Space Science Dept. K. Phillips, Rutherford Appleton Lab. B. Schmieder, Obs. Meudon, President JOSO M. Stavinschi, Director Bucharest Observatory S. Vauclair, Toulouse, President Soc. Francaise Specialistes en Astronomie O. von der Luhe, Freiburg, Director, Kiepenheuer Institute J.C. Vial, Orsay, Director MEDOC center R. West, ESO, Public Outreach and Education J. P. Zahn, President, European Astronomical Society

Last Update: 1 September 2019
13-Aug-2022 13:19 UT

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