New camera yields clues to dramatic events on sun's surface

July 1, 2013 at 6:43 PM   |   Comments

PRESTON, England, July 1 (UPI) -- British scientists say an innovative new camera on board a sounding rocket has captured the sharpest images yet of the sun's outer atmosphere.

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire, working with U.S. and Russian colleagues, report the NASA High Resolution Coronal Imager they helped develop discovered fast-moving "highways" and intriguing "sparkles" that may help answer long-standing questions about coronal mass ejections that carry billions of tons of plasma into space.

If an ejection hits the Earth, it can disturb the terrestrial magnetic field in a "space weather" event that can damage satellite electronics and even overloading power grids on the ground.

The discovery and nature of the solar highways captured in the NASA instrument, dubbed Hi-C, may allow scientists to better understand the driving force for these eruptions and help predict with greater accuracy when ejections might take place, the researchers said.

"The camera is effectively a microscope that lets us view small scale events on the sun in unprecedented detail," Robert Walsh, director of research at the Lancashire university, said. "For the first time we can unpick the detailed nature of the solar corona, helping us to predict when outbursts from this region might head towards the Earth."

Walsh presented the study results Monday at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland.

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