Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Space Travel News  




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



A Massive Explosion On The Sun

Still of the footage, gathered by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) on Dec. 13, 2006, shows sunspot 930 unleashing a powerful X-class solar flare. To view all of the footage please go here.
by Dr. Tony Phillips for Science at NASA
Huntsville AL (SPX) Apr 25, 2007
Astronomers are calling the Japanese Hinode spacecraft a "Hubble for the sun." Watch this movie and you'll see why: The footage, gathered by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) on Dec. 13, 2006, shows sunspot 930 unleashing a powerful X-class solar flare.

It's one of the most detailed movies of a flare solar physicists have ever seen. The SOT has a resolution of 0.2 arcseconds or 0.00006 degrees. Putting those numbers into perspective, the telescope can see features on the sun as small as 90 miles wide from its orbit 93 million miles away.

But resolution is only part of the story. What makes Hinode truly special as a solar telescope "is its unique ability to see the sun's magnetic field," says John Davis, NASA's project scientist for Hinode at the Marshall Space Flight Center. It's an ability Hinode used to reveal the magnetic underpinnings of the Dec. 13th flare.

"Solar flares are essentially magnetic," Davis explains. In the maelstrom above a sunspot, lines of magnetic force are twisted and stretched until the tension reaches a certain point-and then the whole thing explodes.

A rubber band provides a good analogy. Take one from your desk, hold one end in each hand: stretch and twist. If you twist, twist and twist to extremes, the tormented band will eventually snap, painfully releasing all the energy you just put into it.

Magnetic fields behave a lot like rubber bands, and "Hinode was able to see the twisting and stretching that preceded the Dec. 13th solar flare," he says.

Regard the animation at right. It looks like a rampaging hurricane--about twice as wide as Earth! In fact, it is a magnetic map of the flare zone on the southern flanks of sunspot 930. Red arrows indicate the direction of the sunspot's magnetic field. White areas have positive polarity (N); black areas are negative (S). The movie begins on Dec. 10th, three days before the flare, and ends on Dec. 14th, one day after the flare. "These data were recorded by Hinode's spectro-polarimeter, a device which can sense magnetic fields by analyzing the polarization of light coming from iron ions in the sun's atmosphere," explains Davis.

The hurricane, he says, is actually a giant tube of magnetic flux emerging from beneath the sun's surface. As it spins, lines of magnetic force become twisted and stretched, while N and S polarities are shoved together in close proximity. "This causes a build-up of tension and energy in the magnetic field."

On Dec. 13, 2006, at precisely 0234 UT, the energy was released in the form of an X3-category solar flare. The explosion hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME: a billion-ton cloud of gas) into space, which sparked Northern Lights as far south as Arizona when it hit Earth a day later.

Shock waves in the CME accelerated heavy ions to near-light speed, and these ions coursed around the Earth and Moon for more than a day. This is called a "radiation storm." If astronauts had been on the Moon at the time, they may have been forced to stay indoors-inside their spaceships or habitats-to avoid exposure.

Astronomers have been struggling to predict solar flares since flares were discovered in 1859 by Lord R.C. Carrington and R. Hodgson. But they have been stymied, in part, by the difficulties of mapping the sun's magnetic field.

Magnetograms on Earth must look through our planet's turbulent atmosphere, which blurs the little red arrows we see so clearly in the Hinode movie. Hinode's ability to examine magnetic fields from Earth orbit is a new and crucial development.

"The kind of data we're getting from Hinode is just what we need to sort out how flares work," says Davis. "All we need now is some more explosions."

Related Links
Hinode at MSFC
Hinode at JAXA
Hinode at National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily



Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News


NASA Spacecraft Make First 3-D Images of Sun
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Apr 24, 2007
NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft have made the first three-dimensional images of the sun. The new view will greatly aid scientists' ability to understand solar physics and thereby improve space weather forecasting.







  • UP Aerospace Readies Rocket For April 28 Launch
  • NASA Modifies Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle Contract
  • ATK, LockMart and PW Rocketdyne Present Proposal For Ares I Upper Stage
  • NASA Buys Abort Test Boosters for Orion Flight Tests

  • Minotaur Launched From NASA Wallops Flight Facility
  • ASTRA 1L Integrated To Ariane 5 Dual-Payload Dispenser System
  • India Puts Italian Satellite Into Orbit
  • Indian Space Program Goes Commercial

  • New Shuttle Launch Dates Announced
  • NASA to launch Shuttle Atlantis as early as June
  • Shuttle Assessments And Repair Work Ongoing
  • NASA Assigns Crew For Shuttle Mission To Install Japanese Lab

  • Expedition 15 Takes Charge After Ceremony
  • ISS Crew Landing Put Off To Avoid Spring Floods
  • ISS Ready For Crew Change Over
  • NASA Extends Contract With Russian Federal Space Agency

  • Out Of This World Weightless Flights By Zero Gravity Corporation Lift Off From Las Vegas
  • Weldon Joins Call For Space Summit To Discuss Space Program Future
  • Building Shields For Your Starship
  • Facing Tanning Booth Cancer Risk

  • Space Peonies Blooming In Heze
  • China Launches Ocean Monitoring Satellite
  • China To Pursue Space Instead Of Socialism
  • China Outlines Space Program Till 2010

  • Antarctic Lake Robot Probe Sets Sights On Outer Space
  • Boeing and iRobot Team to Develop New Recon Robot For Military And Civil Use
  • Swarms Of Nano-Nauts
  • Boeing Orbital Express Conducts Autonomous Spacecraft-to-Spacecraft Fluid and Component Transfer

  • Imaging Alicante At Crater Victoria
  • Spirit Continues Studies Of Rocks Near Home Plate
  • Seeking A Soft Landing On Mars
  • Dust Devils Whip By Spirit

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright Space.TV Corporation. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space.TV Corp on any Web page published or hosted by Space.TV Corp. Privacy Statement