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Solar eclipse on FAA's ATC calendarSolar eclipse on FAA's ATC calendar

Countless celebrations, observations, and education-based activities are planned for the total solar eclipse that will sweep northwest to southeast across North America on Aug. 21.

This image of the moon crossing in front of the sun was captured on Jan. 30, 2014, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory observing an eclipse from its vantage point in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Airborne events are in the mix, including the launch of nearly 100 high-altitude balloons that will capture images of the rare passage of the moon in front of the sun’s disk for the Eclipse Ballooning Project, in which 58 teams of high school and college students from 31 states will pitch in for science.

According to NASA, the path of “totality,” where the moon will completely cover the sun, revealing the solar corona, will extend from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. Outside that path, observers will be able to observe a partial solar eclipse.

Such a relatively high concentration of high-altitude balloon flights in a compressed time period is something air traffic control wants to know about—and the word was passed along to the FAA by Berk Knighton, leader of a ballooning program at Montana State University and a member of an FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee on ballooning.

Knighton also notified aviation organizations, including AOPA about the plans to send up balloons carrying payloads that include cameras, equipment to track the balloons’ positions, and a selected science project.

“Teams will be launching approximately 60 to 70 minutes ahead of totality with their operations lasting about 2 to 3 hours,” he said, providing a map of airspace to be impacted on a web page that also gives the planned balloon launch locations.

Knighton said he is working with Patrick Moorman, an FAA air traffic control specialist, on the project to keep the FAA in the loop. The effort has included informing the Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Denver, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Centers that they “may see eclipse-related balloon traffic in their airspace.”

If you are not in position to take in the total eclipse, plan to be somewhere between Texas and Maine on April 8, 2024, for the next viewing opportunity from the lower 48 states. For those lucky enough to be near Carbondale, Illinois, for the coming eclipse and the 2024 event, the paths of the two eclipses will cross there, NASA says.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Planning, Technology

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