Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's EUNIS Mission: Six Minutes in the Life of the Sun

12.12.2012
In December, a NASA mission to study the sun will make its third launch into space for a six-minute flight to gather information about the way material roils through the sun's atmosphere, sometimes causing eruptions and ejections that travel as far as Earth.

The launch of the EUNIS mission, short for Extreme Ultraviolet Normal Incidence Spectrograph, is scheduled for Dec. 15, 2012, from White Sands, N.M. aboard a Black Brant IX rocket. During its journey, EUNIS will gather a new snapshot of data every 1.2 seconds to track the way material of different temperatures flows through this complex atmosphere, known as the corona.

A full study of the sun's atmosphere requires watching it from space, where one can see the ultraviolet, or UV, rays that simply don't penetrate Earth's atmosphere. Such observations can be done in one of two ways – send up a long-term satellite to keep a constant eye on the sun, or launch a less expensive rocket, known as a sounding rocket, for a six minute trip above Earth's atmosphere to collect data fast and furiously throughout its short trip up to an altitude of 200 miles and back.

"Six minutes doesn't sound like much," says solar scientist Douglas Rabin who is the principal investigator for EUNIS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But with an exposure every 1.2 seconds, we get very good time resolution and a lot of data. So we can observe minute details of how dynamic events on the sun happen over times of two to three minutes."

Watching the sun at this kind of time cadence helps scientists understand the complex movements of solar material – a heated, charged gas known as plasma – as it heats and cools, rising, sinking and gliding around with every change in temperature. Adding to the complexity of the flows are magnetic fields traveling along with the plasma that also guide the material's movements.

This writhing atmosphere around the sun powers an array of solar events, many of which stream out into the farthest reaches of the solar system, sometimes disrupting Earth-based technologies along the way.

"Ultimately all of our research is geared toward addressing key outstanding questions in solar physics including how the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is heated, what drives the solar wind, and how energy is stored and released to cause eruptions," says Jeff Brosius, a solar scientist at the Catholic University of America and a EUNIS co-investigator based at Goddard.

But teasing out how this energy moves through the corona is not a simple process. Different types of observations and techniques must be combined to truly track how different temperature material courses around.

The technique that EUNIS uses to observe the sun is known as spectroscopy. Taking pictures of the sun is one very useful form of observation, but it requires looking at just one wavelength of light at a time. A spectrometer on the other hand does not provide imagery, in a conventional way, but gathers information about how much of any given wavelength of light is present, showing spectral "lines" at wavelengths where the sun emits relatively more radiation. Since each spectral line corresponds to a given temperature of material, this provides information about how much plasma of a given temperature is present. Capturing many spectra during the flight will show how the plasma heats and cools over time. Each wavelength also corresponds to a particular element, such as helium or iron, so spectroscopy also provides information about how much of each element is present. Each spectrographic snapshot from EUNIS is based on light from a long, narrow sliver running across about third of the visible sun -- nearly 220,000 miles long.

"Looking at a small slice of the sun at such fast time cadence means we can look at the evolution and flows on the sun in a very direct way," says solar scientist Adrian Daw, the instrument scientist for EUNIS at Goddard.

Repeated sounding rocket flights offer significant advantages compared to orbital missions in terms of the measurement flexibility. Each separate flight can focus on the specific measurements that are most valuable, adjusting, as necessary, making improvements and emphasizing different aspects of the sun. Improving time cadence, for example, may be necessary to study the dynamics, however this inherently limits the observational resolution as the instrument gathers less light for any given snapshot of data. This flexibility in emphasis for each flight greatly enhances the scientific return.

This launch is the third for the EUNIS mission, but the tenth in a line of similar rockets where the predecessor was named SERTS for Solar Extreme-ultraviolet Research Telescope and Spectrograph. On each flight the scientists turned their attention to focusing on a different aspect of their research. During this flight, the instrument will observe a band of extreme ultraviolet light with wavelengths from 525 to 630 Angstroms with better sensitivity and greater spectral resolution than any previous instrument. This set of wavelengths covers a wide range of temperatures, representing solar plasma at 45,000 to 18 million degrees Fahrenheit (25,000 to 10 million Kelvin) which includes the temperature ranges of material from near the sun's surface to the much hotter corona above. Since we do not yet understand why the corona gets hotter the farther it is from the sun – unlike, for example, a fire where the air gets cooler farther away – studying such a wide range is crucial part for understanding that process.

With a six-minute window, EUNIS is unlikely to see a specific large eruption on the sun such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME) but since the sun is currently moving into the height of its 11-year cycle, they do expect to see a fairly active sun.

"The last two times EUNIS flew were in 2006 and 2007," says Daw. "Now the sun is waking up, getting more active and we're going to see a whole different type of activity."

Karen C. Fox
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Karen C. Fox | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sounding-rockets/news/eunis.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

nachricht What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>