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Published:January 29th, 2013 11:01 EST
NASA's HI-C Mission Gives Scientists More Insight on the Power of Sun

NASA's HI-C Mission Gives Scientists More Insight on the Power of Sun

By Ron G Anselm

When you`re lying on some remote beach this summer taking in rays from the massive round ball in the sky known as our sun don`t just lay there tanning and smelling like you just bathed in a tub of suntan lotion.  Or what about those people who pay for artificial sun at those high-cost tanning studios; no think about the power of the sun and the enormous energy that it emits into our solar system and how much power it takes to heat the atmosphere.  

NASA has released the first clear evidence of energy that is transferred from the sun`s magnetic field into the solar atmosphere or better known as the corona. NASA has said this process is known as solar braiding and has been studied more frequently lately by scientists which have given them a better understanding of the massive power of our sun.

Scientists were able to recently witness this phenomenon using the highest quality and highest resolution images that were ever taken of the solar corona. Thanks to NASA`s High Resolution Coronal Imager or (Hi-C) (You know just like the name of the watered down fruit drink your Mom used to hand out at those after school pool parties when you were a kid, not that mine ever did) telescope which was recently launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in July of last year.

The Hi-C principal investigator, Jonathan Cirtain who is also a heliophysicist at the NASA Marshall Flight Center (just up the highway from me) in Huntsville, Alabama commented on this by stating, "Scientists have tried for decades to understand how the sun`s dynamic atmosphere is heated to millions of degrees (wow, no wonder you look like a red onion after lying on the beach a few hours with no sun tan lotion on, again not that I ever did that) he went on to say, "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, J.)

The telescope (Hi-C) has a payload weighing 464 pounds and measures ten-feet long flew for about ten minutes snapping photos and collecting data and ultimately ended up capturing one-hundred and sixty-five images of a large active region in the suns corona. It averaged taking one image every five seconds.

The images taken were in the format of how a high-speed photographer would take images of a moving object, say a Cheetah at full sprint or a boxer throwing a right hook. The images were taken with the complete evolution of the magnetic field at full activity and also captured other types of activity on the sun at the same time while the sun was pouring out massive energy at temperatures that would burn your little tushy of two to four million degrees.

This information has a variety of uses to it and one of those uses will tell scientist how all magnetized stars evolve. Many of the stars that light up or universe or the night sky here on Earth have magnetic fields which the evolution of these types of stars is used to explain the emission of the star and any other events like flares. Thus, understanding how the suns magnetic field heats up or solar atmosphere will help explain how the evolution of all magnetic stars come to life or evolve.

The magnetic field in the solar atmosphere drives all solar eruptions. These observations will lead to a better understanding for scientists and will give scientists better tools to be able to predict space weather. Any solar eruption in the solar atmosphere can ultimately reach our Earth`s atmosphere and affect any operations of our Earths satellites which orbit in and around our planet. These orbiting satellites are used for communication and navigation operations for NASA and scientists so you can see the impact it would have on those types of entities.

The new NASA HI-C telescope is like the Cadillac of all space telescopes. With its mirrors which set about nine and a half inches apart from one another sets the stage for maximum optimization and clear images. The NASA engineers worked on this new technique which involves grinding the optics and polishing the surfaces which was developed for the HI-C telescopes mirrors. The last piece of the puzzle which involved spacing the mirrors on the telescope to within a few ten-thousandths of an inch apart took this new technology to the next level and was the difference in high impact optimization as is the difference between a Sony black and white television is to a Toshiba Plasma television of today.

Jeffrey Newmark who is a sounding rocket scientist at NASA`s headquarters in Washington, D.C. commented on this by saying, 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. " (Newmark, J.)

The HI-C resolution is the best NASA has come up with over other telescopes of the past. This new technology is about five times finer than that of the imaging instrument used aboard NASA`s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which was launched back in February 2012 which was also on a mission to study the sun and the dynamic behavior of it.

NASA is always looking for maintaining a working budget and to keep every mission in the green and not red when it comes to space exploration projects. On this HI-C mission NASA used what is known as suborbital sounding rockets which help provide a low-cost means to conduct mission and projects when studying the Earth`s upper atmosphere. Tis mission cost NASA around five-million dollars. You say, "Five-million dollars! Wow! I`ll never even come close to having that much money in my lifetime let along thirty lifetimes!  That is a lot of money to be spending on space exploration."

No not really compared to other mission in the past the cost of this mission was really a drop of change in the bucket because past mission or missions in general could cost in upwards of fifty-million dollars and more.

John Grunsfeld who is an associate administrator for NASA`s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington, D.C.  added a little vale to this mission, budgets and future missions of NASA by saying, "This suborbital mission has given us a unique look into the workings of the sun addressing a major mystery in nature. Hi-C has demonstrated that high value science can be achieved on a small budget. NASA`s sounding rocket program is a key training ground for the next generation of scientists, in addition to developing new space technologies." (Grunsfeld, J.)




For images go to (, for information about NASA`s sounding rocket program go to ( and for more information about SDO visit ( Retrieved 2013.