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Eclipse of the heart: Holloman Airmen reach for the stars

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

The inside of a telescope is pictured at the solar observatory at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 21, 2017. The Solar Optical Observing Network telescope system allows Air Force personnel to observe, analyze and report visible solar phenomena, such as solar flares, sunspots, magnetic fields and disk and limb activity that may affect or interfere with Department of Defense objectives. (U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

John Pietrzak, Detachment 4, 2nd Weather Squadron physical science technician, performs maintenance on a telescope prior to the eclipse at the solar observatory at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 21, 2017. Holloman’s observatory is one of three Air Force ground-based solar optical observatories known as 2nd WS, Solar Optical Observing Network. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

Visiting students from a local middle school view the sun via special solar-filtered glasses during the eclipse at the solar observatory at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 21, 2017. This eclipse, last viewed from American soil Feb. 26, 1979, was visible to citizens across the continental United States, traversed Holloman AFB, appeared as a partial solar eclipse at 10:23 a.m. MST that lasted a total of 2 hours and 53 minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

The viewing lens of a telescope is pictured at the solar observatory at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 21, 2017. Holloman’s observatory serves to both train Airmen and monitor the sun to provide a reliable, operational source of solar optical imagery to the Air Force and its clients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

Visiting students from a local middle school view the eclipse via a telescope at the solar observatory at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Aug. 21, 2017. The Solar Optical Observing Network telescope system allows Air Force personnel to monitor the sun to provide a reliable, operational source of solar optical imagery to the Air Force and its clients, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis P. Docherty)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Hundreds of thousands of individuals, whether peering out their bedroom windows or traveling in caravans of motor vehicles to various destinations across America, watched in excited anticipation as the sun and moon traversed paths to create a total solar eclipse Aug. 21, 2017.

This astronomical phenomenon, last viewed from American soil Feb. 26, 1979, was visible to citizens across the continental United States, traversed Holloman Air Force Base, and appeared as a partial solar eclipse at 10:23 a.m. MST that lasted a total of 2 hours and 53 minutes.

Members of the Holloman Solar Observatory, one of three Air Force ground-based solar optical observatories known as 2nd Weather Squadron, Solar Optical Observing Network, monitored the eclipse while allowing visiting students from a local middle school to view the event via the observatory’s telescope.

Holloman’s 2nd WS observatory operates under the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, to train Airmen and monitor the sun to provide a reliable, operational source of solar optical imagery to the Air Force and its clients.

“We are here to produce solar analysis and report our data to the USAF Weather Agency Space Weather Operation Center and NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, our civilian counterparts, who will produce forecasts to safeguard satellites, power grids, infrastructure and other operational impacts,” said Senior Airman Aaron Wolak, Detachment 4, 2nd WS weather journeyman.   

The SOON telescope system allows Air Force personnel to observe, analyze and report visible solar phenomena such as solar flares, sunspots, magnetic fields and disk and limb activity that may affect or interfere with Department of Defense objectives.

“The telescope is used for monitoring the sun and watching the Hydrogen-alpha (Hα, 6563 Å) wavelength,” said John Pietrzak, Det. 4, 2nd WS physical science technician. “We are watching that particular wavelength because of all the attributes associated with it; we can see solar plage, sun spots, filament structure--all of this is used to help us identify solar flares and their characteristics.”

Overall, monitoring the sun is an important task that poses unique challenges while also providing a dynamic work setting.

“The hardest part of my job is the unpredictability of solar activity,” Wolak said. “We are in the baby steps of understanding how our sun works and how it changes from day-to-day, and it is difficult to track as of now, but I’m one of twelve people that get to do it—that is what makes this tick.”  

Editor’s note: Information from http://www.557weatherwing.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Article/871832/2d-weather-squadron-solar-observing-optical-network/ was used in the publication of this article.   

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