Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Space Instrument Adds Big Piece to the Solar Corona Puzzle

24.01.2013
The Sun's visible surface, or photosphere, is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As you move outward from it, you pass through a tenuous layer of hot, ionized gas or plasma called the corona. The corona is familiar to anyone who has seen a total solar eclipse, since it glimmers ghostly white around the hidden Sun.
But how can the solar atmosphere get hotter, rather than colder, the farther you go from the Sun's surface? This mystery has puzzled solar astronomers for decades. A suborbital rocket mission that launched in July 2012 has just provided a major piece of the puzzle.

The High-resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C, revealed one of the mechanisms that pumps energy into the corona, heating it to temperatures up to 7 million degrees F. The secret is a complex process known as magnetic reconnection.

"This is the first time we've had images at high enough resolution to directly observe magnetic reconnection," explained Smithsonian astronomer Leon Golub (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). "We can see details in the corona five times finer than any other instrument."

"Our team developed an exceptional instrument capable of revolutionary image resolution of the solar atmosphere. Due to the level of activity, we were able to clearly focus on an active sunspot, thereby obtaining some remarkable images," said heliophysicist Jonathan Cirtain (Marshall Space Flight Center).

Magnetic braids and loops
The Sun's activity, including solar flares and plasma eruptions, is powered by magnetic fields. Most people are familiar with the simple bar magnet, and how you can sprinkle iron filings around one to see its field looping from one end to the other. The Sun is much more complicated.

The Sun's surface is like a collection of thousand-mile-long magnets scattered around after bubbling up from inside the Sun. Magnetic fields poke out of one spot and loop around to another spot. Plasma flows along those fields, outlining them with glowing threads.

The images from Hi-C showed interweaved magnetic fields that were braided just like hair. When those braids relax and straighten, they release energy. Hi-C witnessed one such event during its flight.

It also detected an area where magnetic field lines crossed in an X, then straightened out as the fields reconnected. Minutes later, that spot erupted with a mini solar flare.

Hi-C showed that the Sun is dynamic, with magnetic fields constantly warping, twisting, and colliding in bursts of energy. Added together, those energy bursts can boost the temperature of the corona to 7 million degrees F when the Sun is particularly active.

Selecting the target
The telescope aboard Hi-C provided a resolution of 0.2 arcseconds - about the size of a dime seen from 10 miles away. That allowed astronomers to tease out details just 100 miles in size. (For comparison, the Sun is 865,000 miles in diameter.)

Hi-C photographed the Sun in ultraviolet light at a wavelength of 19.3 nanometers - 25 times shorter than wavelengths of visible light. That wavelength is blocked by Earth's atmosphere, so to observe it astronomers had to get above the atmosphere. The rocket's suborbital flight allowed Hi-C to collect data for just over 5 minutes before returning to Earth.

Hi-C could only view a portion of the Sun, so the team had to point it carefully. And since the Sun changes hourly, they had to select their target at the last minute - the day of the launch. They chose a region that promised to be particularly active.

"We looked at one of the largest and most complicated active regions I've ever seen on the Sun," said Golub. "We hoped that we would see something really new, and we weren't disappointed."

Next steps
Golub said that data from Hi-C continues to be analyzed for more insights. Researchers are hunting areas where other energy release processes were occurring.

In the future, the scientists hope to launch a satellite that could observe the Sun continuously at the same level of sharp detail.

"We learned so much in just five minutes. Imagine what we could learn by watching the Sun 24/7 with this telescope," said Golub.

This research is being published in the journal Nature in a paper co-authored by Cirtain, Golub, A. Winebarger (Marshall), B. De Pontieu (Lockheed Martin), K. Kobayashi (University of Alabama - Huntsville), R. Moore (Marshall), R. Walsh (University of Central Lancashire), K. Korreck, M. Weber and P. McCauley (CfA), A. Title (Lockheed Martin), S. Kuzin (Lebedev Physical Institute), and C. DeForest (Southwest Research Institute).

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

For more information, contact:

David A. Aguilar
Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7462
daguilar@cfa.harvard.edu
Christine Pulliam
Public Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
617-495-7463
cpulliam@cfa.harvard.edu

Christine Pulliam | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cfa.harvard.edu
http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2013/pr201303.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>