UCLan world first shines brightest light on sun

Astronomers from Preston have been working with NASA to produce a world first.

Friday, 10th April 2020, 5:00 pm
New photos show the highest resolution images of the sun ever

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire, along with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, have unveiled the highest-ever resolution images of the Sun.

Until now certain parts of the Sun’s atmosphere had appeared dark or mostly empty, but these new images reveal that the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere is filled with fine threads, made up of million-degree plasma.

The ultra-sharp images were taken by NASA’s High-Resolution Coronal Image. The telescope can pick out structures in the Sun’s atmosphere as small as 0.01 per cent the size of the Sun, making these the highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun’s atmosphere.

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Professor Robert Walsh, professor of solar physics at UCLan and institutional lead for the Hi-C team, said: “Until now, solar astronomers have effectively been viewing our closest star in ‘standard definition’, whereas the exceptional quality of the data provided by the Hi-C telescope allows us to survey a patch of the Sun in ‘ultra-high definition’ for the first time.

Dr Amy Winebarger, Hi-C principal investigator at NASA MSFC said: These new Hi-C images give us a remarkable insight into the Sun’s atmosphere. Along with ongoing missions such as Probe and SolO, this fleet of space-based instruments in the near future will reveal the Sun’s dynamic outer layer in a completely new light.”

Dr Tom Williams, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLan who worked on the Hi-C data added: "This is a fascinating discovery that could better inform our understanding of the flow of energy through the layers of the Sun and eventually down to Earth itself. This is so important if we are to model and predict the behaviour of our life-giving star.”

The exact physical mechanism that is creating these pervasive hot strands remains unclear.

Scientific debate will now focus on why they are formed, and how their presence helps us understand the eruption of solar flares and solar storms that could affect life on Earth.

Debate