Tag Archives: Solar Flares

NASA Space Place – Big Science In Small Packages

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in December, 2016.

By Marcus Woo

2013february2_spaceplaceAbout 250 miles overhead, a satellite the size of a loaf of bread flies in orbit. It’s one of hundreds of so-called CubeSats—spacecraft that come in relatively inexpensive and compact packages—that have launched over the years. So far, most CubeSats have been commercial satellites, student projects, or technology demonstrations. But this one, dubbed MinXSS (“minks”) is NASA’s first CubeSat with a bona fide science mission.

Launched in December 2015, MinXSS has been observing the sun in X-rays with unprecedented detail. Its goal is to better understand the physics behind phenomena like solar flares – eruptions on the sun that produce dramatic bursts of energy and radiation.

Much of the newly-released radiation from solar flares is concentrated in X-rays, and, in particular, the lower energy range called soft X-rays. But other spacecraft don’t have the capability to measure this part of the sun’s spectrum at high resolution—which is where MinXSS, short for Miniature Solar X-ray Spectrometer, comes in.

Using MinXSS to monitor how the soft X-ray spectrum changes over time, scientists can track changes in the composition in the sun’s corona, the hot outermost layer of the sun. While the sun’s visible surface, the photosphere, is about 6000 Kelvin (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit), areas of the corona reach tens of millions of degrees during a solar flare. But even without a flare, the corona smolders at a million degrees—and no one knows why.

One possibility is that many small nanoflares constantly heat the corona. Or, the heat may come from certain kinds of waves that propagate through the solar plasma. By looking at how the corona’s composition changes, researchers can determine which mechanism is more important, says Tom Woods, a solar scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and principal investigator of MinXSS: “It’s helping address this very long-term problem that’s been around for 50 years: how is the corona heated to be so hot.”

The $1 million original mission has been gathering observations since June.

The satellite will likely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in March. But the researchers have built a second one slated for launch in 2017. MinXSS-2 will watch long-term solar activity—related to the sun’s 11-year sunspot cycle—and how variability in the soft X-ray spectrum affects space weather, which can be a hazard for satellites. So the little-mission-that-could will continue—this time, flying at a higher, polar orbit for about five years.

If you’d like to teach kids about where the sun’s energy comes from, please visit the NASA Space Place: spaceplace.nasa.gov/sun-heat/

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: Astronaut Tim Peake on board the International Space Station captured this image of a CubeSat deployment on May 16, 2016. The bottom-most CubeSat is the NASA-funded MinXSS CubeSat, which observes soft X-rays from the sun—such X-rays can disturb the ionosphere and thereby hamper radio and GPS signals. (The second CubeSat is CADRE — short for CubeSat investigating Atmospheric Density Response to Extreme driving – built by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Science Foundation.) Credit: ESA/NASA

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

CNYO Brochure – A Guide For Solar Observing

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In preparation for upcoming 2013 lecture and observing sessions, we have put together instructional brochures to help introduce the Night Sky to attendees. The third of these, entitled “A Guide For Solar Observing,” addresses our solar observing sessions and is provided below in PDF format. This brochure will be available at our combined lecture/observing sessions, but feel free to bring your own paper copy (or the PDF on a tablet – but have red acetate ready!).

Download: A Guide For Solar Observing (v6)

NOTE: These brochures are made better by your input. If you find a problem, have a question, or have a suggestion (bearing in mind these are being kept to one two-sided piece of paper), please contact CNYO at info@cnyo.org.

NOTE 2: We’d like to thank the great solar photographer Alfred Tan for the use of his solar image in this brochure. For a regular feed of his stellar (pun intended) solar views from Singapore, we encourage you to subscribe to his twitter feed at: twitter.com/yltansg.



A Guide For Solar Observing

Solar Safety: Read Me First!

“NEVER Look At The Sun Through ANY Eyepiece Without Protection!”

Pre-Observing Observing Tips

“The Sun is a blindingly bright object all by itself – and your observing session has you constantly looking in its direction!”

Sun Cross Section – 697,000 km Radius

“Radiative Zone: 348,000 km thick, energy from the core is passed through as photons (light) – thousands of years for light to pass through it from the core!”

The Solar System To Scale

“The solar diameter in “planets” is listed.”

More Information About The Sun

“The Sun is the reason why we’re here!”

And Just Why Is The Sky Blue?

“At sunrise and sunset, most of the blue light has been scattered by air molecules, so more of the Sun’s longer wavelength light (red and orange) makes it to our eyes (“R”).”

What You’ll Observe On The Sun

“The savvy (or lucky) observer may see a plane (1), a satellite, a planet (“transit” of Venus (2) or Mercury), or the International Space Station (3).”

About The Sun (History & Future)

“The Sun is a spectral type G2V star in the Orion Arm (Orion Spur) of the Milky Way, some 25,000 light years from the Milky Way’s center and, on average, 8 light minutes away from Earth.”

What You’ll See Through Solar Filters

“All other filters work by picking out a single wavelength (shade of one color) from the entire visible spectrum (ROYGBIV – red, orange, etc.), allowing only that color to pass through to your eye.”