NASA lands in Perth

Anticipation is building around the state for Australia’s first total solar eclipse in over a decade, with NASA scientist Dr Henry Throop arriving in Perth in preparation for the main event in Exmouth on Thursday morning. 

With total solar eclipses rarely occurring in climates as clear as Exmouth’s, Dr Throop, who is a program scientist in the Planetary Science Division, says this eclipse is the perfect opportunity for space agencies such as NASA to study the sun. 

Dr Henry Throop from NASA was happy to answer questions about the sun in Kings Park on Monday morning. Photo: Liam Murphy.

“One of the things we’re interested in looking at during the total eclipse is the sun’s corona, which is this much fainter region beyond the disk of the sun itself. This region is always there, but you can only study it from the Earth during an eclipse,” he says.

Roughly around every 11 years, the sun enters a period known as its solar maximum. During this time, its magnetic field goes into overdrive, causing frequent solar flares and large spots to appear on its surface.

With the sun currently approaching a solar maximum in its current cycle, Dr Throop says he is particularly eager to study the sun’s activity during this total eclipse.

“We have a total solar eclipse roughly once a year at some place on Earth, but this one’s going to be in a period where the solar cycle is nearing its peak, so this one will be even more active than the last,” he says.

Map of australia with eclipse path.
The path of Thursday’s total solar eclipse. Image: Timeanddate.com

Dr Throops says it’s critical we monitor the sun’s activity for a number of reasons. 

“We need to understand how our Earth interacts with the sun, from the light and heat that come from it but also from the solar winds and how that interacts with the upper atmosphere and its magnetic field. So studying the sun, especially during an eclipse like this, is an essential part of that.”

In collaboration with the US Perth consulate on Monday morning in Kings Park, astronomy fans and families got the opportunity to monitor and inspect the suns surface themselves through two special solar telescopes.

Dr Throop hopes events like these can inspire the next generation to look to the stars and pursue a career in solar astronomy and science.

“You can do astronomy during the nighttime, but you can also do astronomy during the daytime and look at the sun, so it’s just really cool to see all these people, of all ages, here today interested in doing that,” he says.

He believes continuing the long-standing partnership between Australia and the US in science is paramount in studying our solar system and universe. 

“Everybody sees the same sky. Everybody has the same planets, and there’s so much cooperation that can continue to occur, particularly in astronomy. Science is such a global endeavour.”

“Science is such a global endeavour”

Dr Henry Throop

Perth US consul general Siriana Nair says she’s delighted with the outcome of the event in Kings Park on Monday and jumped at the opportunity to welcome Dr Throop to the state.

“Our consulate regularly hosts visitors from the United States across many different sectors. The US and Australia have been cooperating on space for decades, so when we learnt Dr Throop would be in Perth with his telescopes, he was more than happy to share the experience with the community,” she says.

  • Dad teaching his son to look through a telescope
  • Dr henry Throop's face smiling
  • person looking through telescope in kings park
  • Crowd in kings park wanting to look through telescope
  • Dr Throop helping a small kid look through telescope
  • man looking through telescope

In cooperation with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, Dr Throop says NASA is sending up a special telescope on a kite for the first time to inspect the sun during the eclipse’s totality and rise above any potentially troublesome clouds.

“It’s on a string, around a kilometre long, that will go above the clouds and study the sun’s corona,” he explains.

“Being able to develop a new hardware and test it out using a kite is something we haven’t tried before.”

Perth residents can expect to see 70 per cent of the eclipse from the metropolitan region at its peak at 11:20 am on Thursday, but to avoid any serious eye damage, they are being urged not to look directly at the sun.