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Rocket-Borne Telescope Detects Super-Fine Strands on the Sun

Images of the Sun's corona captured by the Hi-C sounding rocket
The Hi-C telescope zoomed in on Active Region 12712, capturing fine threads of solar material.
Credits: NASA/University of Central Lancashire

New images from a NASA sounding rocket provide the highest-resolution views ever captured of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, revealing fine strands of million-degree solar material.

The images show loops as thin as 125 miles across in areas that appear dim and fuzzy in other Sun-watching telescopes. It’s the first direct observation of the strands thought to combine and make up larger loops on the Sun. They also provide visual evidence that the staggeringly hot material that fills the Sun’s corona — which is some 300 times hotter than its surface — has definite structure on fine scales, rather than being a homogenous soup of particles.

The images were captured by NASA’s High-Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C mission. Hi-C is a solar telescope mounted on a sounding rocket, a sub-orbital rocket that makes brief flights into space before falling back to Earth. Hi-C captured these images on its third flight from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on May 29, 2018. The Hi-C mission is led by principal investigator Amy Winebarger of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The images were published in the Astrophysical Journal on April 7, 2020.


By Miles Hatfield
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.