NASA's Extreme Ultraviolet Normal Incidence Spectrograph mission, scheduled for a Dec. 15 launch from White Sands, N.M., will gather a new snapshot of data every 1.2 seconds to track the way material of different temperatures flows through the sun's complex atmosphere, known as the corona.
Study of the sun's atmosphere requires watching it from space to record the ultraviolet, or UV, rays that simply don't penetrate Earth's atmosphere.
Satellites can gather such data, but a much less expensive method is to launch instruments such as NASA's EUNIS aboard a rocket for a 6-minute trip above Earth's atmosphere to collect data during a short trip to an altitude of 200 miles and back.
"Six minutes doesn't sound like much," solar scientist Douglas Rabin said in a NASA release Tuesday.
"But with an exposure every 1.2 seconds, we get very good time resolution and a lot of data. So we can observe minute details of how dynamic events on the sun happen over times of two to three minutes."
The dynamic atmosphere of the sun powers a number of solar events, many of which stream out into the farthest reaches of the solar system, sometimes disrupting Earth-based technologies along the way, researchers said.
With the sun currently moving into the height of its 11-year activity cycle, researchers expect to record significant movement in the sun's atmosphere.
"The last two times EUNIS flew were in 2006 and 2007," said Adrian Daw, the mission's instrument scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Now the sun is waking up, getting more active and we're going to see a whole different type of activity."