Mankind depends on the Sun. Its life-giving force radiates from the centre of our Solar System to power everything we hold dear. For something so important to us, you may be shocked to learn that we don’t actually know all there is to know about the centre of our little patch of the universe. NASA, however, has just unlocked important knowledge about the Sun by taking photos of it with the most high-resolution satellite camera ever used.
NASA scientists worked hand in hand with boffins from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory along with clever clogs at at Tinsley Laboratories in California to make one of the most sensitive optical imaging rocket in the history of the space program.
Known as the Hi-C telescope — short for High Resolution Coronal Imager — is designed to peer into the Sun’s Corona and image it at super high resolutions. The Sun’s Corona is the upper atmosphere of the star, and among other things it’s where solar flares and solar storms erupt. These storms can fire out radiation that can disrupt communication networks on Earth.
NASA strapped the 200-kilogram Hi-C imager onto a sounding rocket in July and sent it into the atmosphere for a 620-second mission where it snapped 165 images. When NASA got the camera back from its landing zone in the desert, it found that it had captured images of the Sun in unprecedented detail.
Using ultraviolet imaging, NASA grabbed images of the Sun’s Corona that it has never seen before. NASA will be using the images it acquired to study the evolution of a star and how it pertains to our Sun.
While this mission to observe the Sun’s Corona was super-successful, NASA uses other wavelengths to analyse our nearest star in every possible detail.
NASA has published this colourful collage that shows the Sun in every possible way using all the instruments from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Scientists use these views to study different aspects of the Sun’s structure and behaviour.
Each of the wavelengths observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was chosen to emphasise a specific aspect of the sun’s surface or atmosphere. This image shows imagery both from the Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA), which helps scientists observe how solar material moves around the sun’s atmosphere, and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), which focuses on the movement and magnetic properties of the sun’s surface.
Cool science looks cool, kids. [NASA]
Jesus Diaz also contributed to this article