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How Eclipses Tell This Latina Scientist About Space Weather

While Tuesday and Wednesday's total solar eclipse will not cast a shadow over the Americas, Dr. Yari Collado-Vega, a Space Weather Forecaster, will be closely observing those parts of the Sun one can only see during an eclipse.

“The moon will block the sun in a perfect way so you can see the corona,” she explained. “In the corona, that is where most of the interesting things for space weather happen: solar flares, mass ejections and temperature changes from the surface."

Collado-Vega works with a team of scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to study how solar phenomena affect Earth’s magnetic field, environment and satellites. Her primary objective is to alert NASA of the weather in space and make predictions on how the storms could affect the planet.

RELATED: The total solar eclipse is at 8:38 p.m. EST. Click here to see it on NASA's Livestream.

While Collado-Vega cannot travel to see this year's solar eclipse, she looks forward to watching the stream online. The solar eclipse will only be visible to parts of Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia, and it will end north of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. The path for the eclipse is just 100 miles wide, so most observers in southern China and northern Australia will only see a partial eclipse.

The solar eclipse gives scientists like her the opportunity to actually see what solar events look like.

Collado-Vega began her studies at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez where she earned her first master’s degree in physics. She later earned another master's and a PhD at the Catholic University of America. She has worked at Goddard for 13 years researching the Sun and its various phenomena.

“Solar flares emit bursts of radiation on the whole electromagnetic spectrum, and we receive the signals in eight minutes because it travels at the speed of light,” she explained. “A coronal mass ejection is an explosion of billions of particles from the surface, but those take two to three days to arrive.”

Mass ejections are what cause magnetic storms, which are disturbances in Earth's magnetic field that damage satellites and power grids. Like weather services such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Collado-Vega can predict how severe each storm will be, and when they will hit the planet.

“We [everyone on Earth] are more dependent on technology than ever before, so space weather forecasting is so important because it protects the technology we use every day,” Collado-Vega explained. “Everybody has a cellphone and everyone uses GPS, and if we aren’t prepared for a mass ejection, that can affect everyone.”

Sun-Watching Spacecraft Spots Solar Flare 0:26

Tuesday's solar eclipse prepares NASA scientists for next year's total eclipse, which is being anxiously awaited since it will pass over the entire continental U.S. and will be seen from coast to coast.

“I know some people who are going to travel the whole path in the U.S. in 2017 to have a better idea of how the corona changes over time,” said the Latina scientist.

Image: Map showing the path of totality across U.S. for 2017 total solar eclipse
Map showing the path of totality across the United States for the total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. Fred Espenak/NASA GSFC

Collado-Vega said she would have gone to Indonesia to see this year's eclipse, but she has a young daughter and could not take the trip.

"There are always hurdles and things that happen because you are woman in science," she said. "There is always bias based on gender and where you come from, but NASA has been a great place to work."

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