Feeds

Scientists probe causes of solar flares

Solar-B to launch next week

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Next week, Japanese space agency JAXA will launch Solar-B, an orbital observatory designed to investigate the causes of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, the huge eruptions from the surface of the Sun.

Although flares themselves are reasonably well understood, the mechanism that produces them is not, and scientists are not able to make good predictions about solar weather patterns.

Solar-B will measure the movement of magnetic fields and track how the solar atmosphere responds. The observatory will be able to distinguish between the normal background activity on the sun's surface, and the changes that will build-up to a flare, the researchers say.

Watching the Sun is not easy, however, as anything in orbit around Earth will have days and nights - periods when it cannot see the Sun.

"The Sun behaves unpredictably and will be as likely to flare during spacecraft night when Solar-B would be behind the Earth," says Professor Len Culhane, principal investigator of the EIS instrument.

To maximise viewing time, the craft will be inserted into a particular kind of polar orbit that will allow it to observe the Sun for nine months of the year.

The craft, a joint project between Japan, the US, and the UK, will carry three telescopes to study the sun in different wavelengths: optical, X-ray and extreme UV. The latter, the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), was provided by the UK, and is designed to catch the tiniest changes in the solar surface in the build up to a flare.

This so-called "trigger phase" is key to being able to make predictions about flares and CMEs.

"Solar flares are so fast and furious they can cause communication black-outs at Earth within 30 minutes of a flare erupting on the Sun's surface," says Professor Louise Harra, the UK Solar-B project scientist based at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

"It's imperative that we understand what triggers these events with the ultimate aim of being able to predict them with greater accuracy." ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.