University of Houston student researchers chase eclipse

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Students from the University of Houston are heading to Nebraska to do research during the eclipse.

"When we leave here its go time," said Bryan Gunawan, acting project director for the UH's Undergrad Student Instrumentation Project within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Cullen College of Engineering.

Three or four students will be driving to Nebraska on Sunday. The 12-hour trip will be to conduct experiments with a Very Low Frequency radio receiver, which will be floated up by helium-filled balloons 90,000 feet into the ionosphere during the eclipse. The instrumentation on board will take readings and detect interference in radio communication due to changes in the ionosphere caused by the sudden lack of, then return of, sunlight.

"When the solar eclipse comes, the waves should change somehow. We get a more complete picture of how solar radiation effects the earth," said UH student researcher Samar Mathur.

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One payload will be flown to Houston as others are deployed in Nebraska and Wyoming.

"We get a better understanding of how the sun and the earth interact with each other and how the sunlight and radiation effect the earth's plasma layers and the atmosphere," said Mathur.

The students said it's not clear yet how that data might be used.

Maybe one day, it can help protect Earth from the effects of a solar flare. That's part of the lure of science, they said, learning new things and seeing where the data takes you.

If they get to experience the first total eclipse in a century along the way --- even better.

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