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NASA Telescope Observes How Sun Stores And Releases Energy

These observations ultimately will lead to better predictions for space weather because the evolution of the magnetic field in the solar atmosphere drives all solar eruptions. These eruptions can reach Earth's atmosphere and affect operations of Earth-orbiting communication and navigation satellites.

The images were made possible by a set of innovations on Hi-C's optics array. The telescope's mirrors were approximately 9 1/2 inches across. New techniques for grinding the optics and polishing the surfaces were developed for the mirrors. Scientists and engineers worked to complete alignment of the mirrors, maintaining optic spacing to within a few ten-thousandths of an inch.

"The Hi-C observations are part of a technology demonstration that will enable a future generation of telescopes to solve the fundamental questions concerning the heating of the solar atmosphere and the origins of space weather," said Jeffrey Newmark, sounding rocket program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Hi-C's resolution is about five times finer than the imaging instrument aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) launched in February 2010 to study the sun and its dynamic behavior. The Hi-C images complement global sun observations continuously taken by SDO.

NASA's suborbital sounding rockets provide low-cost means to conduct space science and studies of Earth's upper atmosphere. The Hi-C mission cost about $5 million.

"This suborbital mission has given us a unique look into the workings of the sun addressing a major mystery in nature.  Hi-C has demonstrated that high value science can be achieved on a small budget," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. "NASA's sounding rocket program is a key training ground for the next generation of scientists, in addition to developing new space technologies."

Partners associated with the development of the Hi-C telescope include the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.; L-3Com/Tinsley Laboratories in Richmond, Calif.; Lockheed Martin's Solar Astrophysical Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif.; the University of Central Lancashire in England; and the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., built, operates and manages SDO for SMD.

To view the Hi-C images, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/10Ss9MA  

More information about NASA's sounding rocket program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/soundingrockets 

For more information about SDO, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sdo 

SOURCE NASA

Copyright 2011 PR Newswire. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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