Tuesday, 2 July 2013

What drives along the highways of the Sun?

Rockets are expensive, and have this distressing thing where they explode hugely sometimes - as the Russian space agency was reminded yesterday.



But not every space  mission needs to launched on a huge rocket. With NASA's help the University of Central Lancashire launched a set of next generation cameras into space last year -  on a small rocket that spent only minutes in space.

Image above: UCLAN/NASA team recover the sub-orbital rocket and cameras, which parachuted back to Earth when their mission was done. See, it's small enough to launch from your back garden - if you hate your neighbours, and don't mind having a jet fighter bomb your house thinking it's a terrorist base....

These cameras imaged the Sun's atmosphere with the highest level of detail ever, and they've shown a solar atmosphere full of bizarre, unexplained, structures: Long 'highways' of plasma are strung about it. Blobs of plasma tear along these highways at eighty kilometres a second, possibly because of Physics, or possibly just because everything that close to the Sun is terrifying.

Image above: The UCLAN/NASA camera's image of the Sun's surface, all boiling plasma ripped and churned, by stupidly powerful magnetic fields and electric currents. And heat, don't forget the really insane heat. The box on the lower left shows the high powered 'sparkles', the box near the middle shows the stretched our 'highways' and the racing plasma blobs.....

There are previously undiscovered 'sparkles': Each of these is about the size of the UK, and is putting out one million million million million joules of energy. No one's sure what they are, but they may be the reason why the Sun's atmosphere is four hundred times hotter than it's surface - a mystery which astronomers would like to clear up, as it defies almost all the laws of nature.

So Professor Robert Walsh and the rest of University of Central Lancashire's space program can sit back with some cake for a bit, and congratulate themselves on a job well done....