The Great American Eclipse of August 2017 left a ‘wake’ in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, the way a ship does when it moves through water. The phenomenon has been theorized about, but never before detected, according to Gizmodo.
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory and the University of Tromsø in Norway worked together in order to study the phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere located in the planet’s ionosphere, which is the electrically charged part of the upper atmosphere. The scientists used data from satellites, and 2,000 sensors placed at different locations across the U.S., Gizmodo reports. They published their findings in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.
During the Solar eclipse, the moon temporarily covers the light we receive from our star. However, it also blocks the heat we receive from the Sun temporarily. According to Gizmodo, the shadowed zone sees a marked drop in heat energy, and as the zone isn’t a single static location but moves with the moon, it creates the bow wave, this phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere, and decreased heat which moves across the upper atmosphere.
Researchers had already debated whether the bow waves existed or not. However, previous research didn’t reveal any beneficial findings, until now, from the data that was gathered during the Great American Eclipse. The Global Navigation Satellite System receivers managed to detect atmospheric ripples in the ionosphere of the central and eastern areas in the U.S.
“We were looking at some phenomena that were expected but never had the chance to be observed,” corresponding author Shun-Rong Zhang of the Haystack Observatory told Gizmodo. “That was the surprise we found… we had a large coverage and our system is sensitive enough to be able to see these smaller variations. That was really very interesting to us.”
According to the Haystack Observatory, geomagnetic storms can jeopardize the way the satellite system works, and also the electrical power grids around the world. Still, Zhang told Gizmodo that there is no need to worry about this phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere resulting in any damage like that. This is a rather safe research opportunity, Gizmodo reports.
When the solar eclipse occurred in August, Boston University electrical and computer engineering professor Joshua Semeter told the university that bow waves, also known as stern waves, were included in the phenomena that his colleagues and he were hoping to discover during the eclipse.
“It’s like a controller experiment,” Semeter told Boston University earlier this year. “Mother Nature is providing us a nice experimental environment.”