Scientists at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have used NASA’s High-Resolution Coronal Imager (or Hi-C for short) to capture the highest resolution images of the Sun’s external layer. The images revealed the sun’s outer layer is loaded up with previously concealed, amazingly fine magnetic threads loaded up with very hot, million-degree plasma.
These highest resolution images are expected to offer astronomers a better comprehension of how the Sun’s magnetized atmosphere and what it is comprised of.
The threads appeared to be 500km in width, with hot electrified gases flowing inside them. NASA’s High-Resolution Coronal Imager is a unique astronomical telescope carried into space on a sub-orbital rocket flight. The telescope can pick out structures in the Sun’s atmosphere as small as 70km in size, or around 0.01% the size of the Sun, making these highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun’s atmosphere.
What creates these pervasive hot strands remains obscure. Thus, the scientific debate will now focus on why they are formed and how their presence helps us understand the eruption of solar flares and solar storms that could affect life on Earth.
Professor Robert Walsh, professor of solar physics at UCLan and institutional lead for the Hi-C team, added: “Until now solar astronomers have effectively been viewing our closest star in ‘standard definition,’ whereas 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.”
Dr. Amy Winebarger, Hi-C principal investigator at NASA MSFC, stated: “These new Hi-C images give us a remarkable insight into the Sun’s atmosphere. Along with ongoing missions such as Probe and SolO, this fleet of space-based instruments shortly will reveal the Sun’s dynamic outer layer in a completely new light.”
Dr. Tom Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLan who worked on the Hi-C data, said: “This is a fascinating discovery that could better inform our understanding of the flow of energy through the layers of the Sun and eventually down to Earth itself. This is so important if we are to model and predict the behavior of our life-giving star.”
- Is the High-Resolution Coronal Imager Resolving Coronal Strands? Results from AR 12712. DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab6dcf