A NASA space telescope has captured the most detailed photos of the Sun ever taken.
The images reveal spots on the Sun’s surface that are filled with hot plasma* strands.
The images also show that the Sun’s atmosphere is much more complex than previously thought.
They were taken by the NASA High-Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) space-based telescope.
Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre then studied the photos.
They found that sections of the Sun’s atmosphere previously thought to be dark or empty are actually filled with strands of hot electrified plasma.
Each strand is said to be up to almost 1 million degrees Celsius and many hundreds of kilometres long.
Scientists don’t know what created the strands.
The telescope that captured the images was carried into space on a suborbital* rocket.
It then captured an image of the Sun every second before returning to Earth.
NASA’s Dr Amy Winebarger, the telescope’s principal investigator said: “These new Hi-C images give us a remarkable insight into the Sun’s atmosphere.
“Along with (other) ongoing missions, this fleet of space-based instruments in the near future will reveal the Sun’s dynamic* outer layer in a completely new light.”
Future research will now look into how the strands are formed and what their presence means.
They could also provide a better understanding about how the Sun relates to the Earth.
University researcher Tom Williams, who worked on the Hi-C project, said it was a fascinating discovery.
“This … could better inform our understanding of the flow of energy through the layers of the Sun and eventually down to Earth itself,” he said.
“This is so important if we are to model and predict the behaviour of our life-giving star.”
Robert Walsh, professor of solar physics at the university, added: “Until now, solar astronomers have effectively been viewing our closest star in ‘standard definition’.
“The exceptional quality of the data provided by the Hi-C telescope allows us to survey a patch of the Sun in ‘ultra-high definition’ for the first time.”
The study has been published in the Astrophysical Journal.
This story was first published on The Sun and is republished with permission.
- plasma: an electrically charged form of matter that is not liquid, solid or gas but that is most like gas
- suborbital: something that reaches outer space but doesn’t go so far from Earth that it begins to orbit
- dynamic: moving or changing
- What is different or new about these photos?
- Who or what took the photos?
- How big are the strands?
- How did the telescope get into space?
- What will future research look at?
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1. Building scientific knowledge
Scientific research, such as the photographs taken by NASA of the Sun, help humans to continually build upon our scientific knowledge. As new research is done we can confirm or reject existing theories, make new conclusions and form questions for future research.
Make a flow chart with three boxes labelled Before, Now and Future. Carefully read through the article and add more detail to your flow chart by explaining what we thought about spots on the Sun before the Hi-C photos were taken, what we now know, and what scientists are hoping to find out in the future.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
The words “life-giving star” are used in the news story. Write a short paragraph to explain what is meant by this.
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
Scan through the article and see if you can locate three words that you consider to be basic, or low level. Words we use all the time and they can be replaced by more sophisticated words, words like good and said are examples of overused words.
Once you have found them, see if you can up-level them. Think of synonyms you could use instead of these basic words, but make sure they still fit into the context of the article.
Re-read the article with your new words. Did it make it better? Why/Why not?
HAVE YOUR SAY: What thing in space would you like to see close up?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.