First Images from Hinode Offer New Clues About Our Violent Sun

Dec 22, 2006
First Images from Hinode Offer New Clues About Our Violent Sun
This image of the sun was captured by Hinode's X-Ray Telescope, one of three primary instruments on the international science satellite. Credit: JAXA/NAOJ

Instruments aboard a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency satellite named Hinode, or "Sunrise," are returning extraordinary new images of our sun. The international mission to study the forces that drive the violent, explosive power of the sun launched from Japan in September.

Hinode is circling Earth in a polar flight path (a "sun-synchronous" orbit) that allows the spacecraft's instruments to remain in continuous sunlight for nine months each year. An international team of scientists and engineers is performing the calibration and checkout of Hinode's three primary instruments: the Solar Optical Telescope, the X-ray Telescope and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer. NASA made significant contributions to the development of these scientific instruments.

"The checkout phase is crucial because it allows controllers to confirm the spacecraft's instruments are working properly," said John M. Davis, NASA project scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "As part of this checkout, we've been treated to some remarkable images of the sun."

Hinode's X-ray Telescope has captured unprecedented details in solar active region corona, the sun's outer atmosphere. The corona is the spawning ground for explosive solar activity, such as coronal mass ejections. Powered by the sun's magnetic field, these violent atmospheric disturbances of the sun can be of danger to space travelers, disruptive to orbiting satellites and can cause power grid problems on Earth.

Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope has delivered images that show greatly magnified views of the sun's surface. These images are revealing new details about solar convection. Solar convection is the process that drives the rising and falling of gases in the lowest atmospheric region, the photosphere. In addition, the Solar Optical Telescope is the first space-borne instrument to measure the strength and direction of the sun's magnetic field.

The Solar Optical Telescope images and magnetic maps uncover highly dynamic, intermittent nature of the sun's lower atmosphere - chromosphere. It is also providing revolutionary views on various solar phenomena from heating of solar atmosphere to generation of magnetic fields and magnetic reconnection.

Hinode's third primary instrument is the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer. The instrument has provided measurements of the speed of solar material, along with information that will help scientists diagnose the temperature and density of solar outer atmosphere. The Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer provides a crucial link between the other two instruments aboard Hinode since it measures the layers that separate the photosphere from the corona: the chromosphere and the chromosphere-corona transition region.

"These first engineering images have given us a fascinating preview of what's on the horizon once the science phase of the mission begins, sometime in late December," Davis said. "Once we enter that phase, the focus will shift from calibration to using the instruments for making continuous, simultaneous observations of specific solar features."

By performing coordinated measurements with all three instruments, Hinode will help scientists observe how changes in the magnetic field at the sun's surface spread through the outer layers of the solar atmosphere. These first images leave no doubt that Hinode observations will revolutionize the knowledge of our nearest and most important star, the sun.

The Hinode mission, known as "Solar-B" before launch, is led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The collaborative mission includes the space agencies of Japan, the U.S., Great Britain and Europe. Marshall managed the development of the scientific instrumentation provided by NASA, academia and industry. Hinode's operations center is located at JAXA's facility in Sagamihara, Japan.

Source: NASA

Explore further: NASA's Chandra finds intriguing member of black hole family tree

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Satellite gearing up to take EPIC pictures of Earth

11 hours ago

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite is on its way to do something epic. NOAA's spacecraft, sent to monitor space weather, will use its Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) to capture ...

Dance of the planets in the evening sky

Feb 19, 2015

Armagh Observatory reports that the next two weeks provide a rare opportunity to observe the planets Venus, Mars and Uranus in the western evening sky after sunset, and the bright planet Jupiter rising high ...

Interesting facts about planet Mars

Feb 16, 2015

Mars is a constant point of discussion for space explorers around the world. We've sent dozens of spacecraft there to study it. Some want to land astronauts on it. The planet is just far away to make that ...

250 years of planetary detection in 60 seconds

Feb 12, 2015

Early astronomers realized some of the "stars" in the sky were planets in our Solar System, and really, only then did we realize Earth is a planet too. Now, we're finding planets around other stars, and thanks ...

Dark Energy Camera unveils small objects in solar system

Feb 10, 2015

The 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, built at DOE's Fermilab and mounted on the 4-meter Victor Blanco Telescope in Chile, delivers some of the most detailed images of celestial objects. While about a third ...

Recommended for you

New insight found in black hole collisions

12 hours ago

New research by an astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger ...

Looking deeply into the universe in 3-D

12 hours ago

The MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope has given astronomers the best ever three-dimensional view of the deep Universe. After staring at the Hubble Deep Field South region for only 27 hours, the ...

Astrophysicist explores star formation in Orion's belt

13 hours ago

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) astrophysicist Dr. T.L. Wilson is part of a multi-national research team that has discovered an outburst in the infrared from a deeply embedded protostar. The Herschel ...

User comments : 0

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.