SEP 04, 2018 7:52 PM PDT

This NASA Rocket Will Spend 15 Minutes Gawking at the Sun with X-Ray Vision

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA is currently eyeballing Friday, September 7th for the third consecutive launch of its Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI), a space vehicle specially-equipped with X-ray vision intended for studying the Sun’s surface.

FOXSI is a sounding rocket, which unlike traditional space satellites, only spends about 15 minutes in outer space before running out of fuel and falling back to Earth’s surface. Within that seemingly-insignificant time window, NASA hopes to harness FOXSI’s X-ray capabilities to gather meaningful data about the processes taking place on and beneath the Sun’s surface.

An image from FOXSI's second flight shows several nanoflares taking place on the Sun's surface at one time.

Image Credit: JAXA/NASA/Hinode/FOXSI

NASA hopes this launch will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study nanoflares; these are fundamentally tiny explosions that transpire on the solar surface when magnetic field lines snap, and they occur in innumerable quantities.

Nanoflares can’t be observed in visible light, and that’s where FOXSI’s X-ray vision comes in handy. The sounding rocket will fly a staggering 190 miles above Earth’s surface, breaking free of the planet’s atmosphere to make unobscured observations.

“FOXSI is the first instrument built specially to image high-energy X-rays from the Sun by directly focusing them,” explained Lindsay Glesener, the principal investigator of the mission. “Other instruments have done this for other astronomical objects, but FOXSI is so far the only instrument to optimize especially for the Sun.”

This video depicts what the surface of the Sun looks like in various kinds of light. Credit: NASA

Related: When will the next solar eclipse be in the United States?

When a nanoflare takes place on the solar surface, it ejects charged particles at nearly the speed of light and super-heats the surrounding region of plasma to temperatures of millions of degrees Fahrenheit. Given just how much energy nanoflares pack, these reactions are of particular interest to scientists.

But as NASA explains, observing these reactions is no easy task. It’s challenging to focus X-ray images, but FOXSI possessed a specially-calibrated system that can do this.

As we mentioned earlier, this is FOXSI’s third flight; the rocket flew initially in 2012 and again in 2014. Each time, the rocket helped astronomers study the Sun with X-ray in greater detail. But this time around, FOXSI has been fitted with a powerful new telescope that should achieve higher sensitivity and more precise images than ever before.

If everything goes well, we should soon have some of the clearest pictures of solar nanoflares ever snapped, enabling researchers to study them and their internal mechanisms in unprecedented detail.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAY 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Another SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes During Testing
MAY 31, 2020
Another SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes During Testing
Incomplete Starship prototypes are a common sight if you follow SpaceX’s plethora of rocket-centric projects, but ...
JUN 25, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Did Scientists Just Discover the Smallest Black Hole Known to Man?
JUN 25, 2020
Did Scientists Just Discover the Smallest Black Hole Known to Man?
An array of antennas in the US and Italy, known as the International LIGO-Virgo Collaboration, received some unusual rea ...
JUN 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Astrophysicists Find Evidence of Nearby Planet that May Sustain Life
JUN 26, 2020
Astrophysicists Find Evidence of Nearby Planet that May Sustain Life
Researchers have found that a nearby red dwarf star, known as Gliese 887, may host three planets, one of which could sus ...
JUL 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Earth's Moon Had Magma Ocean for 200 Million Years
JUL 13, 2020
Earth's Moon Had Magma Ocean for 200 Million Years
The moon may have hosted an ocean of magma for 200 million years according to new findings- considerably longer than pre ...
JUL 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
JUL 31, 2020
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
It’s commonly said that roughly half of all missions to Mars have succeeded- while roughly half have failed. But a ...
OCT 10, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Imagining the sunspots of other solar systems
OCT 10, 2020
Imagining the sunspots of other solar systems
A recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal takes a new look at sunspots in order to understand stellar activi ...
Loading Comments...