Hinode helps unravel long-standing solar mysteries

August 22, 2007
The above image shows an active region observed on 2 February 2007 by the (EIS) Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer on board Hinode. The EIS is effectively a solar speed camera. it is now possible to pinpoint the source of eruptions during solar flares and to find new clues about the heating processes of the corona. The speed camera is a spectrometer, an instrument that splits the light coming from solar plasma, a tenuous and highly variable gas, into its distinct colours (or spectral lines), providing detailed information about the plasma. The velocity of the gases in a solar feature is measured by the Doppler effect - the same effect that is used by police radars to detect speeding motorists. Credits: NASA/ JAXA/ NAOJ/ STFC/ ESA/ NRL

A year after launch, scientists working with Hinode, a Japanese mission with ESA participation, are meeting at Trinity College, Dublin, to discuss latest findings on solar mysteries - including new insights on solar flares and coronal heating.

Highlights include new insights on the workings of solar flares and on the mechanism behind coronal heating.

Hinode (Sunrise in Japanese) was launched to study magnetic fields on the Sun and their role in powering the solar atmosphere and driving solar eruptions. With its Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), effectively a solar speed camera, it is now possible to pinpoint the source of eruptions during solar flares and to find new clues about the heating processes of the corona.


The speed camera is a spectrometer, an instrument that splits the light coming from solar plasma, a tenuous and highly variable gas, into its distinct colours (or spectral lines), providing detailed information about the plasma. The velocity of the gases in a solar feature is measured by the Doppler effect - the same effect that is used by police radars to detect speeding motorists.

“Hinode is an impressive example of international cooperation and is now helping us solve the mysteries of the Sun with spectacular new data,” says Bernhard Fleck, ESA’s Hinode and SOHO project scientist.

Keith Mason, of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said, “Our Sun is a dynamic and violent entity and European astronomers have played a crucial role in understanding it; right from the first observation of a solar flare to present-day work to predict and protect against the Sun’s outbursts.”

Solar flares, massive energetic explosions that rise up from the Sun, can damage manmade satellites and pose a radiation hazard to astronauts. Despite decades of study, many aspects of this phenomenon are not well-understood. Hinode’s observations are now shedding light on possible mechanisms that accelerate solar particles in flares.

Louise Harra at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, leading the EIS team says, “We knew that solar flares can impact a vast area on the Sun, sometimes leaving behind mysterious ‘dark patches’. Using Hinode, for the first time we have been able to train a speed camera on the material in these dark areas – which can be twenty times the diameter of the Earth."

"We have witnessed material flowing from the dark patch in the wake of the flare, feeding the particle flow that can be hazardous for anything in its path as it hurtles through space at 2000 times the speed of a fighter plane.”

These dark areas fade away after the flare, over several days. “In the long term, understanding solar storms in this new level of detail will allow us to make better predictions of ‘space weather’ storms. This is critical for satellite telecommunications, which we now take for granted”, she adds.

Ichiro Nakatani, JAXA Project Manager for Hinode commented, “We are delighted that nearly a year after launch, we are discovering new things about our nearest star, with many more discoveries to come. The years of hard work that went into developing the satellite were definitely worth it.”

Source: European Space Agency

Explore further: IRIS and Hinode: A Stellar research team

Related Stories

IRIS and Hinode: A Stellar research team

August 25, 2015

Modern telescopes and satellites have helped us measure the blazing hot temperatures of the sun from afar. Mostly the temperatures follow a clear pattern: The sun produces energy by fusing hydrogen in its core, so the layers ...

Scientists study atmosphere of Venus through transit images

July 9, 2015

Two of NASA's heliophysics missions can now claim planetary science on their list of scientific findings. A group of scientists used the Venus transit - a very rare event where a planet passes between Earth and the sun, appearing ...

Searing sun seen in X-rays

July 8, 2015

X-rays light up the surface of our sun in a bouquet of colours in this new image containing data from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The high-energy X-rays seen by NuSTAR are shown in blue, while ...

IRIS celebrates year two with ongoing scientific discoveries

June 29, 2015

On June 27, 2015, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, mission will celebrate its second year in space. IRIS observations have advanced our understanding of what role the interface region, which lies between ...

Recommended for you

Distant planet's interior chemistry may differ from our own

September 1, 2015

As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. ...

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.