NASA telescope to probe long-standing solar mystery to determine how the sun heats its atmosphere to millions of degrees, sending off rivers of particles that define the boundaries of the solar system

NASA telescope to probe long-standing solar mystery

Thu, Jun 27 2013

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A small NASA telescope was launched into orbit on Thursday on a mission to determine how the sun heats its atmosphere to millions of degrees, sending off rivers of particles that define the boundaries of the solar system. The study is far from academic. Solar activity directly impacts Earth’s climate and the space environment beyond the planet’s atmosphere. Solar storms can knock out power grids, disrupt radio signals and interfere with communications, navigation and other satellites in orbit.“We live in a very complex society and the sun has a role to play in it,” said physicist Alan Title, with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, California, which designed and built the telescope.

Scientists have been trying to unravel the mechanisms that drive the sun for decades but one fundamental mystery endures: How it manages to release energy from its relatively cool, 10,000 degree Fahrenheit (5,500 degree Celsius) surface into an atmosphere that can reach up to 5 million degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 million Celsius).

At its core, the sun is essentially a giant fusion engine that melds hydrogen atoms into helium. As expected, temperatures cool as energy travels outward through the layers. But then in the lower atmosphere, known as the chromosphere, temperatures heat up again.

Pictures and data relayed by the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, telescope may finally provide some answers about how that happens.

The 4-foot (1.2-meter) long, 450-pound (204-kg) observatory will be watching the sun from a vantage point about 400 miles above Earth. It is designed to capture detailed images of light moving from the sun’s surface, known as the photosphere, into the chromosphere. Temperatures peak in the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona.

All that energy fuels a continuous release of charged particles from the sun into what is known as the solar wind, a pressure bubble that fills and defines the boundaries of the solar system.

“Every time we look at the sun in more detail, it opens up a new window for us,” said Jeffrey Newmark, IRIS program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The telescope was launched aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp Pegasus rocket at 10:27 p.m. EDT Thursday (0227 GMT Friday). Pegasus is an air-launched system that is carried aloft by a modified L-1011 aircraft that took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California about 57 minutes before launch.

The rocket was released from beneath the belly of the plane at an altitude of about 39,000 feet before it ignited to carry the telescope into orbit.

IRIS, which cost about $145 million including the launch service, is designed to last for two years.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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