Sharpest Ever Images Of Solar Corona
Obtained With A New Sophisticated Camera

1 July, 2013

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Follow us: - Using an innovative new camera on board a sounding rocket, an international team of scientists obtained images of the solar atmosphere (the solar corona) five times sharper than anything seen before.

These are the sharpest images yet of the Sun's outer atmosphere.

The team also discovered fast-track 'highways' and intriguing 'sparkles' that may help answer a long-standing solar mystery.

The new camera observed the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light and focused on a large, magnetically-active sunspot region Images from Hi-C reveal a number of new features in the corona, including 'blobs' of gas ricocheting along 'highways' and bright dots that switch on and off rapidly which the group call 'sparkles'.

An image of an active, magnetically complicated region of the Sun captured by the new Hi-C instrument. It shows plasma in the outer solar atmosphere at a temperature of 1-2 million degrees Celsius. The inset box at bottom left shows 'sparkle' features that are releasing vast amounts of energy into the corona. The box at top right shows a close-up of part of a solar filament where 'blobs' of solar plasma flow along thread-like 'highway' structures. Credit: NASA MSFC and UCLan.

"I'm incredibly proud of the work of my colleagues in developing Hi-C. The camera is effectively a microscope that lets us view small scale events on the Sun in unprecedented detail.

"For the first time we can unpick the detailed nature of the solar corona, helping us to predict when outbursts from this region might head towards the Earth," says solar physicist Professor Robert Walsh, UCLan's University Director of Research.

In the new images, small clumps of electrified gas (plasma) at a temperature of about one million degrees Celsius are seen racing along highways shaped by the Sun's magnetic field.

These blobs travel at around 80 km per second (the equivalent of 235 times the speed of sound on Earth), fast enough to travel the distance from Glasgow to London in 7 seconds. The highways are 450 km across, roughly the length of Ireland from north to south.

The flows of material are inside a so-called solar filament, a region of dense plasma that can erupt outwards from the Sunin form of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can be very dangerous.

The discovery and nature of the solar highways allows scientists to better understand the driving force for these eruptions and help predict with greater accuracy when CMEs might take place.

Another mystery of the Sun is why, with a temperature of two million degrees, the corona is around 400 times hotter than the solar surface. Hi-C images reveal dynamic bright dots which switch on and off at high speed They typically last around 25 seconds, are about 680 km across release at least 1024 (one million million million million) Joules of energy in each event.

The new results are presented on Monday 1 July at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews, Scotland.

See also:
New Discovery Could Reveal The Secrets Of Solar Flares

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