NASA Facts: Hinode
Solar flares are sudden releases of energy on the solar surface lasting several minutes to a few hours. They occur when magnetic fields on the sun's surface get tangled and 'reconnect,' causing nearby plasma to become superheated.
By studying the sun's magnetic field, scientists hope to shed new light on explosive solar activity that can interfere with satellite communications and electric power transmission grids on Earth and threaten astronauts on the way to or working on the surface of the moon. In particular they want to learn if they can identify the magnetic field configurations that lead to these explosive energy releases and use this information to predict when these events may occur.
Led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Hinode mission is a collaboration between the space agencies of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. NASA helped in the development, funding and assembly of the spacecraft's three science instruments. Hinode is part of the Solar Terrestrial Probes (STP) Program within the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Solar Terrestrial Probes Program is managed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed the development of instrument components provided by NASA, with additional support by academia and industry.
The Solar Optical Telescope This suite of instruments will for the first time precisely measure small changes in the sun's magnetic field. The instruments also will show how these changes evolve and coincide with dynamic events seen in the sun's corona -- the sun's "atmosphere," which extends millions of miles into space. The Solar Optical Telescope was developed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, with the telescope’s Focal Plane Package developed by Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif., and the High-Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colo. NASA is responsible for the design and development of the Focal Plane Package, and Dr. Ted Tarbell of Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center is the principal investigator.
The X-ray Telescope
The X-ray Telescope will capture X-ray images of the sun's corona -- the hot, million-degree, outer atmosphere. The corona is the spawning ground for the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that dominate the space between the sun and Earth. These phenomena are powered by the sun's magnetic field. By combining observations by Solar-B's optical and X-ray telescopes, scientists will be able to study how changes in the sun’s magnetic field trigger these explosive solar events. This telescope was developed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is providing the telescope optics, filters and structure, while the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is providing the charge-coupled-device, or CCD, camera. Dr. Ed DeLuca of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is the principal investigator.
The Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer
Although capable of generating images, the primary function of Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Package is to measure the flow velocity, or speed of solar particles, and diagnose the temperature and density of solar plasma -- the ionized gas that surrounds the sun, its corona and beyond. The Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Package provides a crucial link between the other two instruments because it can measure the layers that separate the photosphere from the corona -- an area known as the chromosphere and the chromosphere-corona transition. The spectrometer was developed by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College London in the United Kingdom and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. Major spectrometer elements were developed in the United Kingdom under the direction of Mullard's Professor Leonard Culhane, who is the principal investigator for the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council who is funding the investigation in the United Kingdom. Supporting Culhane in the development of the instrument’s optical systems and with the scientific analysis is the principal investigator, Dr. George Doschek of the Naval Research Laboratory.