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New artifact is a chair used for missions to study solar eclipse and verify nonproliferation

While Walt Wolff's studies ended years ago, a Lab employee carries on the research related to the upcoming solar eclipse.
July 5, 2017
Group shot from May 1965 solar eclipse flight American Somoa

This picture shows the flight crew from a May 1976 solar eclipse run that departed from American Somoa. Walt Wolff, near the center of the group, is highlighted.

The aircraft chair in which Walt Wolff estimated he flew more than 1.5 million miles.
Walt Wolff's airplane chairBeginning in the 1960s, the Lab partnered with Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories for flight missions that supported  the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty. That work was carried out in Air Force NC-135s, modified to hold flying laboratories so researchers could gather data and observe simulated weapon drops.

After the teams of laboratory researchers were on track for their primary missions, they made a case for observing solar eclipses from on high instead of using land-based equipment. The teams’ members, including Walt Wolff, flew their first solar eclipse mission in 1965. Over the intervening years, Walt logged more than 1.5 million miles of air travel from his assigned seat on one of the NC-135s. When the aircraft was decommissioned, he was given the chair to commemorate his contributions. Upon Walt’s passing last year, the seat, along with many other pieces of his memorabilia, was gifted to the Museum by his wife, Joyce.

Although Walt’s solar missions ended many years ago, the Lab’s own Galen Gisler will present on the upcoming solar eclipse at the next Science on Tap event on July 20, 5:30 p.m., at UnQuarked in Los Alamos. The celestial event over North America on August 21 will help us learn more about the sun’s corona.

Galen, of the Lab’s XTD Integrated Design and Assessment group, is very engaged with the events of the upcoming eclipse and will travel to central Wyoming with eight Los Alamos High School students as part of the Citizen CATE Experiment. CATE is short for Continental-American Telescope Eclipse. The National Solar Observatory heads the project. If all is successful, the volunteers at 60 sites across the country will record the longest movie of a total eclipse ever made.

So why do people even care about solar eclipses? The reason is that people want to see and study the sun’s inner corona, which can be observed only during a total solar eclipse. The corona is visually blocked the rest of the time.

To learn more about the Citizen CATE Experiment, visit this site

A piece on the airborne eclipse missions appeared in the Winter/Spring 1981 issue of Los Alamos Science.