While the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse is an excuse for most of us to take a break from work, there are some people who will be over the moon with excitement that they get to work during the rare event on Monday, Aug. 21.
Before you feel sorry for them for being stuck at the office, read on — these may be some of the coolest jobs under the sun.
1. NASA Pilots Chasing the Eclipse
The planes are outfitted with cameras in their nose cones to record the solar corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun. Because the sky is too bright on regular days to see the corona, the eclipse allows the dim corona to become more visible. But ground-based cameras only capture about two and a half minutes of the eclipse. (The eclipse is when the moon moves between the earth and the sun, blocking out the sun.) So NASA’s stratospheric airborne science team will deploy the four jets, two of which will fly in tandem with the eclipse as it cuts its 70-mile-wide path of totality across the United States, so that they can capture three and a half minutes each of totality.
Scientists will later stitch together approximately 29,000 photographs of the corona and use the results to better understand solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can disrupt radio frequency and cell phone communications. The telescopes on the noses of the jets also will observe Mercury and take the first thermal map of the planet.
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2. Asteroid Discoverer
The corona images will help the team search for a hypothesized family of asteroids thought to orbit between the sun and Mercury. Because scientists believe these asteroids, called vulcanoids, are left over from the formation of the solar system, discovering any could change what scientists understand about planet formation.
As you can imagine, those scientists aren’t the only NASA employees working the eclipse. The federal space agency is deploying 50 high-altitude balloons and 11 spacecraft to record the event and will have correspondents and scientists stationed across the nation to provide live updates of the eclipse during a telecast.
One of the best viewing spots for the eclipse will likely be aboard the International Space Station, where six astronauts will get to see the eclipse three times.
“Because we’re going around the Earth every 90 minutes, about the time it takes the sun to cross the U.S., we’ll get to see it three times,” astronaut Randy Bresnik said during a Facebook broadcast.
If that doesn’t make you envious, think of this as you put on your flimsy eclipse-viewing glasses: the astronauts, as they orbit the earth, will be 250 miles closer to the celestial event than any other living human.
Not to be confused with future-predicting astrologers, astronomers examine the cosmos and use applied physics and mathematical formulas to attempt to explain, classify, discuss and offer explanations about the universe. While most astronomers work in office and laboratory settings, in the months and days leading up to the eclipse, they’ve practically risen to rock-star status, as in-demand speakers at public and private events.
On the day of the eclipse, Natalie Hinkel, a Vanderbilt University astrophysicist, will be looking at nearby stars. Because the moon will be blocking out much of the sun’s light, she will be able to witness with her own eyes prominences coming from the sun and nearby stars — something a typical astronomer does not get to do.
Shadia Habbal, an astronomer and professor at the University of Hawaii, and her colleagues will have five observation stations spread out along the path of totality. She studies the solar wind — a stream of particles that flows off the surface of the sun as both gentle breezes and violent eruptions. She can’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime event because total solar eclipses are the only way to directly study the emergence of the solar wind — and she might be saving humanity. Habbal and her team hope that their research will help them better predict solar weather and possibly save humanity from a devastating solar disaster. No pressure, though.
Talk about pressure — two days before the eclipse, ABC’s Good Morning America chief meteorologist Ginger Zee called her eclipse forecast one of the most important forecasts of her career.
But not all meteorologists are on-air weather predictors.
April Hiscox, associate professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, will be launching weather balloons and taking measurements from a small tower detecting temperature changes — all in an effort to answer the question of whether a total eclipse can generate internal atmospheric gravity waves. She says that the eclipse has her feeling like a kid again, thinking about the sky in a different way.
The first coast-to-coast eclipse since 1918 has a lot of people feeling that way. But if it’s sparking more than just childhood fascination with space and you’re seriously considering a career, explore NASA jobs or other eclipse jobs at PayScale’s Career Research Center.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you have a job that involves the solar eclipse? We want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.