The closer scientists zoom in on our sun, the more details they see.
The sun, like all stars, is a roiling mass of superhot charged particles called plasma. But it's not the most conducive to close study by puny humans, because of its extreme heat and brightness. As scientists develop techniques to see higher and higher resolution views of the sun, they have wondered whether at some point they will see the sun's intricate structure will disintegrate into a soupy mess.
According to new research, scientists aren't there yet. Researchers obtained the highest-resolution images to date of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, using NASA's High-Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C. In those images, scientists were able to identify strands of plasma just 125 miles (200 kilometers) across, according to a NASA statement (opens in new tab). (That sounds vast, but remember that the sun is about 865,000 miles, or 1.4 million km across.)
Hi-C gathers data during suborbital flights above the Earth. The new research is based on a flight made on May 29, 2018 aboard a Black Brant IX sounding rocket launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission was the instrument's third flight and followed a deployment during which the camera's shutter failed to open.
But on the third try, the telescope gathered about 5.5 minutes of data during its 2018 flight. That data focused on a spot on the sun called Active Region 12712. In that region, scientists saw a range of different structure types, including low-emission loops, large loop bundles and open fan loops.
The researchers argue that the display supports the scientific value of developing instruments that would offer such detailed images of the corona for longer periods of time, as other solar observatories do.
The research is described in a paper published April 7 in the Astrophysical Journal.
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