Illuminating the Sun

BY BEN GILLILAND

Extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer 
Optical telescope 
X-ray telescope

Hinode
Launched: September 2006
Weight: 900Kg
Optical Telescope: 0.5m wide
Power: Two solar arrays producing 1,100 W
Mission goals: To understand 
.The creation and destruction of the sun's magnetic fields
.Solar eruptions and the solar wind
.The variability of the Sun's luminosity
.The generation of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation

1. A high-resolution iage of the edge of the Sun's surface,taken using Hinode's optical telescope. Both the Sun's photosphere (surface) and corona (atmosphere) are visible. Hinode has detected evidence of so-called Alfvén waves - magnetic ripples,that,it is thought,carry energy along the Sun's magnetic field out to the corona. The existence of Alfve´n waves may help explain why the corona is so much hotter than the Sun's surface
2. A high-resolution image of the photosphere showing a sunspot	a region of high magnetic activity. Because of its lower temperature compared with the surrounding surface, the spot appears dark.
3. This image reveals the structure of the solar magnetic field as it rises vertically from a sunspot into the solar atmosphere. It is along such magnetic lines that Alfvén waves are thought to travel

Considering how important it is to life on Earth - without it there would be none - we know surprisingly little about the mechanism that drives the workings of the star we call 'Sun'. Launched in September last year, the Hinode (Japanese for 'sunrise') spacecraft has three powerful telescopes trained on the Sun.
Some of the first results from the mission, led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, are published today as a series of studies in the journal Science.
The spacecraft can view the Sun in visible, X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths, allowing researchers to capture high-resolution images and video of its structures and magnetic fields. One of the biggest mysteries the craft is tasked with solving is the so-called 'corona problem'. The Sun's surface is hot - 5,700ºC (10,300ºF) - but its atmosphere is hotter - a searing 999,000ºC (1,800,000ºF) plus. Why, or how, this can be has puzzled scientists for decades. One of the studies has confirmed the existence of a type of magnetic wave, known as an Alfvén wave, which ripples through the plasma of the Sun's corona and may heat the corona as it travels from the Sun. Another has pinpointed a region where plasma is continually flowing into the upper corona as a possible source of solar wind - vast clouds of electrically charged particles that can disrupt communication systems and power grids on Earth.

We are currently basking in a solar minimum - a period of low solar activity. However,. over the next few years, the number of solar flares and eruptions known as coronal mass ejections will increase until they reach a peak in about 2012.
Scientists are also predicting that this next solar cycle will be the most intense for 50 years. Such activity produces solar winds that can have drastic eftects on Earth, disrupting satellites, communications and even power grids.As such, understanding mechanisms of the Sun is increasingly important.
Crucial to this research is Hinode's X-ray telescope which has already provided a now look at the less powerful cousins of these solar eruptions: X-ray jets. Both X-ray jets and solar flares are the result of 'magnetic reconnection' - areas where magnetic field lines of opposing polarity meet and annihilate, releasing energy. This energy propels electrically charged gas or plasma out into the solar system and towards Earth. Previously research had looked at only a few X-ray jets. Hinode has already observed an average of 240 jets a day.


Metro Oct10,2008

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