The Great American Eclipse: Virginia Tech researcher grapples with a year’s worth of data

Stationed in an empty field at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina, Virginia Tech electrical engineering professor Greg Earle and his team waited for the total solar eclipse of 2017. Rather than traveling toward the path of totality to see one of “nature’s most awe-inspiring sights,” Earle prepared to put his three-year-old hypothesis on radio propagation to the test.

With roughly two minutes to run diagnostics for the bulk of their project, Earle and his friends sat nestled between high-powered radars and transceivers. In the still of silence, they heard the sound of crickets turn on like clockwork, confused by their early bedtime call at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Over a dozen colleagues were involved in the making of vertical radar equipment that extrapolated data before, during and following the period of artificial light induced by the total solar eclipse. With approximately $100,000 from NASA and $360,000 from National Space Society (NSS), Earle maintained three campsites — South Carolina, Kansas and Oregon.

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