IAF role in study of solar eclipse has been on since 1995

July 21st, 2009 - 7:42 pm ICT by ANI  

New Delhi, July 21 (ANI): The Indian Air Force has always had an essential role in the scientific study of total solar eclipse and since 1995, it has been assisting Government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) in their quest to film this celestial alignment.

With aviation speeds streaking past the supersonic barrier, the scientific experiment of photographing the eclipse from air was made possible, as IAF pilots chased the umbra shadow during the October 24, 1995 eclipse, which also heralded IAF’s participation in scientific study that continues till date.

Air Marshal S Mukerji, Air Officer-in-charge Personnel (AOP) at Air Headquarters, was then a Group Captain, who had the rare opportunity to fly a Mig-25 to film the Sun’s corona from an astounding altitude of 80,000 feet, straight from the Stratosphere.

“We flew at Mach 2.5 in the path of the eclipse at 80,000 feet along the planned central axis of the eclipse over Neemkathana, near Agra,” Air Marshal Mukerji said of his historic sortie that finds a mention in his flying log book plainly as - ‘Supersonic Profile’.

He further mentioned that weather and other visibility were not any constraints, as clarity at stratospheric levels is far better than that nearer ground. With a manual Hasselblad camera mounted above the instrument panel and a special lead and button provided to the second pilot, Wing Commander YS Babu seated in the front cockpit, the duo with special solar filters on their visors flew straight towards the Sun for a minute and twenty-four seconds, clicking never-before images of the spectacle, during the total solar eclipse. “A lot of preparation went in ahead of the sortie. The sortie route had to be charted, axis programmed on the inertial navigation system and briefings by scientists with NASA charts were done. The aircraft were put on jacks, the angle-of-attack or ‘alpha’ simulated on ground to harmonize the camera along the axis. In addition, the aircraft belly camera could capture the shadow beneath that was 85 kms in width,” said Air Marshal Mukerji.

Despite a top speed of Mach 3.2, it was not quick enough to catch-up with the umbra shadow that notched Mach 5, on that occasion.

“This time around a high speed chase would not be necessary as the speed of the Umbra shadow over Gulf of Khambhat begins with Mach 50-60 slowing down to Mach 20 near Bhopal,” said Dr. Vinay B Kamble, Director of Vigyan Prasar and Adviser of DST, who is coordinating with the IAF to capture the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century.

A 10-member team of scientists and camera team from Doordarshan would be flying in an AN-32 from Agra airbase in an endeavour to capture and film the eclipse on Wednesday.

The aircraft would fly along the central axis on a north-westerly direction at an approximate altitude of 25,000 feet reciprocal from overhead Khajuraho and land back at Agra.

Meanwhile, a Mirage-2000 trainer would also take off from Gwalior airbase and the pilot from the rear seat will click images even as the fighter flies in an angular track to the central axis. The Eclipse will begin on July 22 at 5:28 am (IST), when the shadow of the moon touches the Earth at local sunrise at a point in the Arabian Sea close to the western coast of India.

The eclipse will end at l0:42 am (IST), when Moon’s shadow will finally leave the Earth at local sunset at a point in the South Pacific Ocean. At approximately 6:23 am (IST), the umbra of the eclipse will touch the earth at sunrise at a point in the Gulf of Khambhat in the Arabian Sea near the southern coast of Gujarat. At this time, the path of totality will be about 200 Km wide and the duration of totality at the central line will be about 3 minute 30 seconds. (ANI)

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