A Look Into the Sun's CoronaNASA recently spent $5 million to send its Hi-C telescope into space for 300 seconds. While most people might think this sounds ridiculous, NASA scientists consider this to be quite the bargain for a mission that has relayed so much information. The data received within this 300 seconds might not seem like a lot, but the truth is that for a telescope to capture so much about an active region of the sun, it is a feat.
The Hi-C telescope, which stands for High-Resolution Coronal Imager, successfully completed its job. This job was to capture data about the hottest part of the sun, the corona. The 300 seconds of observation revealed "magnetic braids" of plasma, which had never yet been seen, in the sun's layer. The telescope managed to capture 165 photo in its mission within the ten minutes from its launch until it fell back to Earth. The telescope did not even circle Earth once during its short-lived space travel. Many believe that what data it did reveal makes it a worthwhile project.
Hi-C is part of NASA's Sounding Rocket Program. This program launches 20 unmanned suborbital projects every year. One of its scientists, Jeff Newmark, says that the mission exemplified the "three pillars of the program: world-class science, a breakthrough technology demonstration, and the training of the next generation of space scientists." All in all, the project is seen as a complete success and achieved its purposes by focusing and gathering data about a very specific small region of the sun. The telescope was able to take close-up images of an active region of the sun with a high resolution.
The Hi-C instrument on the integration table at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
While NASA already has telescopes that monitor the surface of the sun, like the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), none of these are designed to take the close-up, high-resolution images of small regions like the Hi-C. The SDO shows us the sun as a whole and allows scientists to zoom in on certain parts of it, although these images are not as high-resolution as what the Hi-C can do.
Based on the results of Hi-C's mission, researchers want to push the next telescope orbital mission even further. They want to design a telescope similar to Hi-C, but one that can withstand a lot more. They are looking to create a telescope that builds off of what the Hi-C did but can capture images for longer. Since they now know these "magnetic braids" of plasma exist in the corona, they want to be able to study them more in-depth. Another trip to the sun? You betcha'.