NASA Satellite Zooms In on the Sun

NASA's Hinode satellite offers images of the sun's magnetic field to help scientists understand how solar activity interferes with satellite communications.

During the week of Dec. 18, NASAs Hinode, a satellite that uses three instruments to record images, data and other information pertaining to the sun, returned new images.

Launched in Sept. 2006, the Hinode (hinode is Japanese for sunrise), which was formerly known as the Solar-B mission and led by the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), set out to study the sun using three different instruments: the Solar Optical Telescope, the X-ray Telescope and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer.

The instruments were all designed to study the suns magnetic field so that scientists can figure out how solar activity interferes with satellite communications and why the sun has explosive energy releases.

"These first engineering images have given us a fascinating preview of whats on the horizon once the science phase of the mission begins," John Davis, NASA project scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a company release.

Though the instruments are currently going through a checkout phase to see if they are working properly, the instruments have been able to produce high-quality images of the sun, NASA officials said.

The X-ray Telescope captured images of the suns outer atmosphere and was able to point out how the sun has violent atmospheric disturbances that can lead to power grid problems on Earth.

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The Hinodes Solar Optical Telescope produces magnified images of the suns surface, lending to details about solar convection, which is a process that drives the rising and falling of gases in photosphere, the lowest atmospheric region.

This telescope also produces images of the chromosphere, which the suns lower atmosphere, as well as providing images such as the heating of the solar atmosphere or generation of magnetic fields.


The Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer has given scientists measurements of the speed of solar material as well as other data that will aid scientists in figuring out the temperature and density of the outer atmosphere.

Now that the checkout phase is in full gear, Davis hopes that when it comes time for the science phase, that the Hinode will be ready to go.

"Once we enter the science phase of the mission, the focus will shift from calibration to using the instruments for making continuous, simultaneous observations of specific solar features," Davis said.

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