NASA this week announced that it has found the first clear evidence of energy transfer from the sun's magnetic field to its corona. Called "solar braiding," the process was only a theory until these new observations.
The evidence comes from the highest resolution images of the sun's corona ever taken. The photos were taken by NASA's High Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) telescope.
"Scientists have tried for decades to understand how the sun's dynamic atmosphere is heated to millions of degrees," said Jonathan Cirtain, Hi-C principal investigator and a heliophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "Because of the level of solar activity, we were able to clearly focus on an active sunspot, and obtain some remarkable images. Seeing this for the first time is a major advance in understanding how our sun continuously generates the vast amount of energy needed to heat its atmosphere."
Cirtain and his colleagues assert that the new findings could lead to better predictions for space weather, since the sun's magnetic field drives solar eruptions that can reach the Earth and potentially disrupt satellites.
The Hi-C telescope is a sub-orbital satellite that flew for only 10 minutes in July 2012. During that time, it took 165 photos of an active region of the sun's corona. New optics grinding and surface polishing techniques were developed for the Hi-C's mirrors. The telescope's resolution is around five times that of the one aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which already takes amazingly high-definition pictures of the sun.
"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.
(Image courtesy NASA)