When the solar eclipse swept across the continental U.S.in August, it carved a subtle, but noticeable path through our atmosphere. This time, the vast network of Global Navigation Satellite System receivers were able to detect atmospheric ripples across the ionosphere of the Central and Eastern United States.
The existence of these formations was theorized, and they were well-known as bow waves.
Researchers from the University of Tromsø and the Haystack Observatory of MIT chose to study the effects the grand eclipse had on our planet.
Shun-Rong Zhang from Haystack Observatory, who was the corresponding author of the paper, told Live Science the ripples were of two types - bow and stern - that happen at the front and the back of ships moving through water. "That was the surprise we found. we had a large coverage and our system is sensitive enough to be able to see these smaller variations". They're not very energetic though, so they don't pose any danger to us here on the ground, and likely don't have much of an effect on the broader atmosphere.
A total solar eclipse occurs only when the sun, moon and Earth are in a direct line, so is only visible from a small area on Earth - from the centre of the moon's shadow.
A study based on the observations first appeared online December 4 and was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on Tuesday.
We show the first unambiguous evidence of ionospheric bow-waves as electron content disturbances over central/eastern USA, with ∼1 hour duration, 300-400 km wavelength and 280 m/s phase speed emanating from and tailing the totality region. We can see the moon at night because it reflects light from the sun, so when the Earth blocks this light, it causes a lunar eclipse.
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The ionosphere is often disturbed by all kinds of phenomena, most of the times including gravitational waves.
The following is an abstract from a paper from 1976 on the phenomenon.
The moon's shadow created waves which looked as a boat sailing in the ocean.
The eclipse of October 23rd 1976 will provide another opportunity to attempt to record eclipse generated atmospheric disturbances.
Lunar eclipses can only occur during a full moon, but they don't occur every single full moon, since the Earth's orbit around the sun and the moon's orbit around Earth have little wobbles in them that sometimes prevent a flawless alignment.
Here's how the Smithsonian Institute describes bow shocks and bow waves. Noting that the waves weren't unsafe in any way, he told the website: "Similar bow waves, including stern waves, occur also when airplanes travel through the air at the speed of sound". The width of the bow wave or shock cone depends on the speed of the object.
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