One team of scientists chased along the path of the eclipse in a specially instrumented C-130 Hercules aircraft. Flying in an unpressurized cabin at 18,000 feet, their goal was to detect the faint spectral line of ionized silicon in the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere. "It may prove to be the most sensitive indicator of coronal magnetic field strengths available to researchers," said National Center for Atmospheric Research physicist Philip Judge.
Several instruments on the SOHO satellite gathered information about the state of the corona and the magnetic fields in the photosphere--the lower layer of the sun's gaseous surface. Combining the SOHO data with the other observations will help piece together a better picture of the sun's magnetic structure as a whole.
It will be months before all the data is interpreted. But the researchers are already issuing a plethora of spectacular images that illuminate the sun's blaze in wavelengths from x-ray to the infrared. These new glimpses of old Sol instill the same awe that early humans must have felt when the corona suddenly burst into a dark sky as a ring of fire. And there won't be another in North American until August 2017.