NASA Leans Into Solar Eclipse With 3 Rocket Launches: Here's What's Up With That

The last total solar eclipse in North America until 2044 is approaching in a matter of hours, and while we eagerly await the celestial display, NASA is making preparations to deploy three missiles.

NASA will launch three sounding rockets all day, Monday, before, during, and after the total eclipse in order to ascertain how it might impact radio communications on Earth.

The results of this study have the potential to assist NASA in the development of novel technologies that safeguard radio communications in the face of particle disruptions caused by solar activity, whether for short or long durations.

The final total solar eclipse in the contiguous US within 20 years excites stargazers from Canada to the US. Totality—when the moon completely blocks the sun—will last 4 minutes and 27 seconds. Texas and Maine will experience the eclipse at 2:22 and 1:10 p.m. ET, respectively.

Launching rockets during an eclipse may seem like a sci-fi movie, but it has been used to measure scientific data and hypotheses for years. Eclipses offer scientists brief but valuable opportunities to collect data on a variety of subjects to test their hypotheses.

In May 1919, scientists discovered the most significant eclipse finding. NASA observed that some stars appeared misaligned during a total eclipse. The discovery supported Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and the idea that large astronomical objects like the sun have gravitational forces that may bend light and alter spacetime.

Solar radiation ionizes particles in the ionosphere, making it scientifically significant. NASA reports that solar radiation thickens the ionosphere and dilutes it at night. Due of their great susceptibility to disturbance, ionosphere conditions can be unpredictable.

Ionosphere affects radio broadcasts and other high-frequency communication. This might interrupt communications with government research agencies or pilots in flight.

Radio waves from and to satellites affect more than aviation and research. Satellite internet services like SpaceX's Starlink and GPS signals for navigation and financial transactions are essential to daily life.

NASA will send three rockets into the ionosphere 45 minutes apart from Virginia before, during, and after the eclipse. When the missiles reach 260 miles, they will have plenty of time to explore the ionosphere, which is 55 to 310 miles above Earth.

NASA is scheduled to launch all three missiles from Wallops Island, Virginia. At 2:40 p.m. ET, the first rocket is slated to depart, and at 3:25 p.m. ET, the second rocket is scheduled to ascend. NASA will launch the final rocket at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Launch schedules are always subject to change and rely on many factors, including ground conditions. Since the eclipse happens independently of NASA's missile launch readiness, the space agency will likely stick to a plan to avoid missing its data gathering window.