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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Yet another Sun-studying mission!

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Image above: The Black Brent rocket, being readied. image courtesy of NASA.

Today NASA, appropriately given all the fuss our local star has been making [1] the last couple of weeks, is sending up yet another space flight aimed at unravelling the Sun, and it's magnetic fields. Following on the heels of last weeks SUMI flight [2], NASA is launching the High Resolution Coronal Imager [3], aboard a Black Brent suborbital rocket. The imager will look at a large sunspot, at a frequency of UV light known to be good for studying the solar atmosphere, or corona [4], above the spot.

Image above: The fantastical complexity of a sunspot, modelled in a supercomputer. Image courtesy of NCAR.

The mission will spend about five minutes in space, taking observations that should resolve structures down to a hundred kilometres across - five times better than the Solar Dynamics Observatory  [5] can achieve. The increase in resolution is due to the incredibly high quality of the mirrors used to collect the UV light - they are so smooth that there are no bumps bigger than a few atoms tall on them, anywhere.

For some reason - something about it keeping almost all life on Earth going - the Sun is getting a lot of scrutiny from NASA, ESA, and other space agencies. For a bit more on the subject, have a gander at the 'Living with a Star' webpage[6]  at the NASA site......

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