NJIT Undergrads Explore Space Weather During 2024 Total Eclipse (2024)

While thousands traveled westward and northward from New Jersey through bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach the totality of the solar eclipse on April 8, NJIT undergraduate physics students Anneliese Schmidt ’24 and Joseph Visone ’25 were finally able to relax. For them, the race to the eclipse was over, having finally finished deploying instrumentation in upstate New York to explore the question — How does the eclipse change the space environment near Earth?

The space environment near Earth is commonly altered by processes from “above,” such as solar flares and geomagnetic storms, as well as processes from “below,” like earthquakes, weather fronts and tornadoes.

However, the recent eclipse offered a rare window for researchers to investigate what happens as the moon “shut off the Sun’s light” on the space environment.

“Solar eclipses, especially total solar eclipses, are perfect opportunities to study the ionosphere and how sunlight, or lack thereof, impacts Earth’s atmosphere,” said Schmidt, an Albert Dorman Honors Scholar attending graduate school at NJIT next year with support from the Gary Thomas Fellowship. “It was such a cool opportunity to be able to work hands-on with instrumentation within space physics, but it was just incredible timing to be able to work on these systems and deploy them just in time for the solar eclipse with the path of totality being so close to New Jersey."

“It was a super exciting, yet suspenseful day,” added Visone, president of NJIT’s Society of Physics Students from Verona, N.J. “We had set up all our instrumentation the day before, so we did not have much to do except wait for the eclipse to occur and think about our system that we put many weeks of work into.”

Months prior to the eclipse, Schmidt and Visone teamed up with professors Hyomin Kim, Lindsay Goodwin and Andrew Gerrard from NJIT’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research (CSTR) to establish a suite of instrumentation including: a GPS receiver to measure plasma density variations; a magnetometer to examine current variations in the upper atmosphere; and a High Frequency receiver to examine radio wave propagation.

Because their HF receiver needed to be assembled from scratch as part of their PHYS 450 coursework, Schmidt and Visone took their lead from HamSCI — a community of Ham radio enthusiasts who developed an easy-toassemble magnetometer and instructions for building a receiver.

“Our receiver gave us a way to measure Doppler shift, or changes in received frequency of radio signals after it ‘bounces’ off of the ionosphere, a region of Earth's upper atmosphere, and hits our receiver. With that signal change, we can determine a lot about the bottom-side of the ionosphere,” explained Schmidt, a Matawan, N.J. native. “Sunlight affects all these factors due to the photoionization of the ionosphere, so being able to see a ‘sudden nighttime’ during the day because of a total solar eclipse allows us to see changes in the ionosphere that would usually take place over multiple hours from sunset to night.”

“The magnetometer lets us observe how Earth’s magnetic field is affected by the eclipse and how that effect is coupled with the changes in the ionosphere,” said Visone. “For this project, it’s great for supporting and validating our HF receiver’s data.”

Working with the NJIT Makerspace, Schmidt and Visone were able to assemble and test the receiver by late March.


NJIT Undergrads Explore Space Weather During 2024 Total Eclipse (1)

“It was exciting testing our antenna portion of the HF receiver at different sites, from outside Tiernan Hall to the Jenny Jump Observatory in northwest N.J.,” said Schmidt. “Every test, failure and fix we did on the system was within two weeks of the eclipse, which was stressful, but it was also incredibly rewarding to see it come together right before we drove to upstate N.Y. for the event!”

The day before the eclipse, Schmidt and Visone drove from Newark to Holland Patent, N.Y. to deploy the equipment on land owned by Gerrard.

Camping overnight on site, Schmidt and Visone crawled out of their tents early Monday to double-check that the systems had been running successfully since the day before and producing reliable data.

24 eclipse collage.jpg

NJIT Undergrads Explore Space Weather During 2024 Total Eclipse (2)

(Left image) NJIT researchers with the GPS receiver. Front: Andrew Gerrard. Back from left to right: Visone, Schmidt, Goodwin and Kim. (Right image) The team check their system before the eclipse.

Seeing all systems operating nominally, there was nothing left to do but kick-back, relax and watch the eclipse with Kim, Goodwin and Gerrard in ~99% totality.


NJIT Undergrads Explore Space Weather During 2024 Total Eclipse (3)

Composite image of the eclipse from the team’s location in Holland Patent, NY.

Data from the eclipse are now being analyzed by Schmidt and Visone, as well as the broader CSTR and HamSCI communities. However, both students say they’ll draw from the experience years from now in their research careers.

“Not many undergraduates get to work on every aspect of an instrument project like this, and we learned so much … from soldering electronics, building antennas, and troubleshooting the raspberry pi computer operating system,” said Schmidt.

“Soon, we’ll hopefully be able to learn more about the eclipse’s effect on the ionosphere and magnetosphere with our data,” said Visone, who will continue his research at NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory this summer through the university’s REU program. “Regardless, getting to join this effort and successfully cap off months of work to study an event that excited people around the world is something I’ll never forget.”

NJIT Undergrads Explore Space Weather During 2024 Total Eclipse (2024)


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