The instrument, called HI-C for High Resolution Coronal Imager, will fly aboard a Black Brant sounding rocket to be launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission will have just 620 seconds for its flight, spending about half of that time high enough that Earth's atmosphere will not block ultraviolet rays from the sun. By looking at a specific range of UV light, HI-C scientists hope to observe fundamental structures on the sun, as narrow as 100 miles across.
Waiting for launch: NASA's HI-C mission, sitting in the front of this image, will launch on July 11, 2012, to observe the sun's corona in the highest detail ever captured during a 381-second flight. Credit: NASA
"Other instruments in space can't resolve things that small, but they do suggest – after detailed computer analysis of the amount of light in any given pixel – that structures in the sun's atmosphere are about 100 miles across," says Jonathan Cirtain, a solar scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. who is the project scientist for HI-C. "And we also have theories about the shapes of structures in the atmosphere, or corona, that expect that size. HI-C will be the first chance we have to see them."
The spatial resolution on HI-C is some five times more detailed than the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), that can resolve structures down to 600 miles and currently sends back some of our most stunning and scientifically useful images of the sun. Of course, AIA can see the entire sun at this resolution, while HI-C will focus on an area just one-sixth the width of the sun or 135,000 miles across. Also, AIA observes the sun in ten different wavelengths, while HI-C will observe just one: 193 Angstroms. This wavelength of UV light corresponds to material in the sun at temperatures of 1.5 million Kelvin and that wavelength is typically used to observe material in the corona.
During its ten-minute journey, HI-C will focus on the center of the sun, where a large sunspot is predicted to be – a prediction based on what the sun looked like 27 days previously, since it takes 27 days for the sun to complete a full rotation.
"We will start acquiring data at 69 seconds after launch, at a rate of roughly an image a second," says Cirtain. "We will be able to look through a secondary H-alpha telescope on the instrument in real time and re-point the main telescope as needed."
In addition to seeing the finest structures yet seen in the sun's corona, the launch of HI-C will serve as a test bed for this high-resolution telescope. Often one improves telescope resolution simply by building bigger mirrors, but this is not possible when constraining a telescope to the size of a sounding rocket, or even a long-term satellite. So HI-C's mirror is only about nine and a half inches across, no bigger than that of AIA. However, the HI-C mirrors, made by a team at Marshall, are some of the finest ever made, says Cirtain. If one could see the surface at an atomic level, it would show no greater valleys or peaks than two atoms in either direction.
"So it's super smooth," says Cirtain.
In addition, the team created a longer focal length – that is, they increased the distance the light travels from its primary mirror to its secondary mirror, another trick to improve resolution – by creating a precise inner maze for the light to travel from mirror to mirror, rather than a simple, shorter straight line.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is leading the international effort for Hi-C. Key partners include the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Central Lancashire in Lancashire, England, and the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Karen Fox | EurekAlert!
Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society
Scientists measure how ions bombard fusion device walls
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society
Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.
So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
28.10.2016 | Life Sciences