The full resolution image is from the solar active region, outlined in the upper left image. Below it are partial frame images of the braided ensemble via NASA

In an effort to further understand our closest star, as well as to uncover a mystery that has puzzled scientists for years, scientists launched a mission to take the highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun. The mystery in question? Why is the Sun’s corona – or the Sun’s atmosphere – 800 times hotter than the sun’s surface?

 

On a modest budget of $5-million, scientists created and launched a 464-pound, 10-foot telescope into space, where it stayed for a grand total of 5-minutes before returning to Earth. Here, the telescope performed its job flawlessly as it imaged the corona in resolutions that boggle the mind. To give you an idea of how incredible this particular image is, scientists have compared it to taking high-resolution images of a dime 10-miles away.

 

 

Image Credit: NASA

In 1983, astrophysicist Eugene Parker proposed a hypothesis that the corona was being heated by small solar flares – a theory this image supports. Here, we see small magnetic field lines are braided together and snap in an extremely energetic event causing temperatures to reach 7-million degrees. This is a similar process that causes the much larger coronal mass ejections, but just on a smaller scale. Both of these events, large and small, happening in concert with each other essentially drive solar weather in our galactic neighborhood.

 

 

The telescope itself, the Hi-C, is part of the Low Cost Access to Space Program NASA has implemented. The idea of the program is to launch smaller, cheaper missions to obtain data and to test future technologies. Personally, I’d say the program appears to be working.

 

You can find the pager, published in the Nature Journal of Science, here.


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