## Up, Up and Away! Helium Balloon Telescope Explores the Sun

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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Exploring the Sun via helium balloon almost sounds like an adventure for an animated movie, but the SUNRISE balloon-borne telescope has captured data and images that show the complex interplay on the solar surface to a level of detail never before achieved. As in the video above, SUNRISE shows our local star to be a bubbling, boiling mass where packages of gas rise and sink, lending the sun its grainy surface structure. Dark spots appear and disappear, clouds of matter dart up – and behind the whole thing are the magnetic fields, the engines of it all.

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“Thanks to its excellent optical quality, the SUFI instrument was able to depict the very small magnetic structures with high intensity contrast, while the IMaX instrument simultaneously recorded the magnetic field and the flow velocity of the hot gas in these structures and their environment,” said Dr. Achim Gandorfer, project scientist for SUNRISE at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

Previously, the observed physical processes could only be simulated with complex computer models.
“Thanks to SUNRISE, these models can now be placed on a solid experimental basis,” said Manfred Schüssler, co-founder of the mission.

SUNRISE is the largest solar telescope ever to have left Earth. It was launched from the ESRANGE Space Centre in Kiruna, northern Sweden, on June 8, 2009. The total equipment weighed in at more than six tons on launch. Carried by a gigantic helium balloon with a capacity of a million cubic meters and a diameter of around 130 meters, SUNRISE reached a cruising altitude of 37 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

In the stratosphere, observational conditions are similar to those in outer space. The images are no longer affected by air turbulence, and the camera can also zoom in on the Sun in ultraviolet light, which would otherwise be absorbed by the ozone layer. After making its observations, SUNRISE separated from the balloon, and parachuted safely down to Earth on June 14th, landing on Somerset Island, a large island in Canada’s Nunavut Territory.

Grainy sun: the images show the so-called granulation in four different wavelengths in near ultraviolet light. The image section depicts 1/20,000 of the entire surface. The smallest recognisable structures have an angular resolution equal to that of looking at a coin from a distance of 100 kilometres. The light structures are the foundational elements of the magnetic fields. Credit: Image: MPI for Solar System Research

The work of analyzing the total of 1.8 terabytes of observation data recorded by the telescope during its five-day flight has only just begun. Yet the first findings already give a promising indication that the mission will bring our understanding of the Sun and its activity a great leap forward. What is particularly interesting is the connection between the strength of the magnetic field and the brightness of tiny magnetic structures. Since the magnetic field varies in an eleven-year cycle of activity, the increased presence of these foundational elements brings a rise in overall solar brightness – resulting in greater heat input to the Earth.

The variations in solar radiation are particularly pronounced in ultraviolet light. This light does not reach the surface of the Earth; the ozone layer absorbs and is warmed by it. During its flight through the stratosphere, SUNRISE carried out the first ever study of the bright magnetic structures on the solar surface in this important spectral range with a wavelength of between 200 and 400 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter).

SUNRISE is a collaborative project between the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, with partners in Germany, Spain and the USA.

Source: PhysOrg

Member
Sili
November 11, 2009 12:49 PM

Now, this would be a good use of zeppelins.

It’s good to know that we can get good stuff even if we’re not able to leave Earth.

Member
DrFlimmer
November 11, 2009 1:21 PM
Reminds me of an experiment I had to do during my studies. Its aim was to find the average life time of the granules. The experiment was done with holograms. That was really interesting! You take the first hologram, send through laser light, and behind it you put the second picture. The result should be the “laser point” again. But since the second hologram is a little different from the first one, you will not receive the correct dot. You measure the brightness of the dot and write it down. Then you take the next pictures and do the same thing again. And finally the dot will vanish entirely, when the pictures differ too much from the first… Read more »
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Astrofiend
November 11, 2009 5:53 PM

DrFlimmer Says:
November 11th, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I remember doing a very similar experiment in my third year undergrad physics labs, though not for sunspots; we were using images of a different phenomena. I remember it was among the more interesting of the experiments that I had to do…

Thanks for bringing that up – I can remember that experiment in detail and can imagine that what you described would be a very interesting form of the experiment!

Member
astrodon
November 12, 2009 6:53 AM

It looks like Balloon Boy is taking picures for us! Boy, he’ll really get a hot seat for this!

Member
Dark Gnat
November 12, 2009 8:49 AM

It turns out the whole thing was a hoax:

There was never a kid in the sun.

Member
Hans-Peter Dollhopf
November 12, 2009 12:25 PM

Nancy,

I would like to propound this suggestion.

Space exploration and science beyond and above our contemporary earthly biotope is without doubt likewise promising and useful.

Thus, because one of the most important parameters that determines the future of space exploration is costs, an instance that restricts all we dream and hope for, it would be great, if articles would also make available more information about expenditures of single projects.

Member
DrFlimmer
November 12, 2009 1:36 PM
@ Astrofriend My experiment was not for sun spots, either. It was about the granules. Never the less, the experiment was rather dull. You just “crashed” your eyes, because you had to search manually for the recreated dot, and it was sometimes impossible to find it. The advantage of the experiment was the time it took: We finished it in less than two hours, made the analysis the same afternoon and saved a lot of time for other activities on the next few days (normally the analysis of advanced experiments take hours or even days!). The most horrible thing was that we had to make a “talk” out of it (you are required to present one of your… Read more »
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Anaconda
November 13, 2009 9:13 AM
Another perspective that suggest electric currents are central to the Sun’s physical processes: Driving Currents for Flux Rope Coronal Mass Ejections “We present a method for measuring electrical currents enclosed by flux rope structures that are ejected within solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Such currents are responsible for providing the Lorentz self-force that propels CMEs. Our estimates for the driving current are based on measurements of the propelling force obtained using data from the LASCO coronagraphs aboard the SOHO satellite. We find that upper limits on the currents enclosed by CMEs are typically around $10^{10}$ Amperes. We estimate that the magnetic flux enclosed by the CMEs in the LASCO field of view is a few $\times 10^{21}$ Mx.”… Read more »
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Anaconda
November 13, 2009 9:13 AM

Take a look at the close-up image of the solar flare presented in this You Tube link (only an 17 second clip, but instructive, nevertheless).

Notice how the flare builds and it’s apparent the plasma current flowing up out of one ‘foot’ into the loop and then back down into the other ‘foot’.

This image supports the scientific paper abstract linked in the previous comment.

Member
Anaconda
November 13, 2009 9:17 AM
And this scientific paper abstract outlines the roles of electric fields in the Sun’s physical dynamics: Generation of large scale electric fields in coronal flare circuits Submission August 6, 2009 “A large number of energetic electrons are generated during solar flares. They carry a substantial part of the flare released energy but how these electrons are created is not fully understood yet. This paper suggests that plasma motion in an active region in the photosphere is the source of large electric currents. These currents can be described by macroscopic circuits. Under special circumstances currents can establish in the corona along magnetic field lines. The energy released by these currents when moderate assumptions for the local conditions are made,… Read more »
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Nereid
November 13, 2009 9:33 AM

@Anaconda: what makes you think that those who study the Sun, the solar wind, etc do NOT include “electromagnetism” in their thinking?

I mean, seriously, how did you arrive at such a patently ridiculous conclusion?

Perhaps, some folks should broaden their perspective to include electromagnetism in their thinking.

Member
DrFlimmer
November 13, 2009 9:58 AM

I guess that all these things still do not proof that the sun is on any potential, nor that it is charged (meaning that the sum of all charges of all particles of the sun, where electrons are counted negatively and ions positively, differs much from zero). This does even not proof that the sun is powered by a large current from the outside.

So, what is the point you want to make, Anaconda?

To claim that “mainstream” science does not include electromagnetism, while exploring the sun, is – as Nereid already said – ridiculous.

Member
Anaconda
November 13, 2009 10:46 AM
Nereid wrote: “@Anaconda: what makes you think that those who study the Sun, the solar wind, etc do NOT include “electromagnetism” in their thinking? I mean, seriously, how did you arrive at such a patently ridiculous conclusion?” I don’t. Those that study the Sun obviously do consider ‘electromagnetism’ in their thinking as evinced by the abstracts presented. (Which Nereid apparently didn’t pick up on — what’s new?) The exercise, here, was to point this out to the usual commenters and other readers. But I will acknowledge that the usual suspects have come a long way since I first started commenting on this website, pointing out ‘electromagnetism’ in space. From outright denial of ‘electromagnetism’ in space at the start… Read more »
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Nereid
November 13, 2009 11:15 AM

@Anaconda: where did you read that “95% of the Universe is “dark” matter”?

Concerning CDM (cold, dark – non-baryonic – matter): can you point to a peer-reviewed, published paper with an analysis of the WMAP (or other, post-COBE, CMB observations) which claim a quantitative match AND which do not include CDM?

Member
Anaconda
November 13, 2009 12:14 PM
Nereid asks: “…where did you read that “95% of the Universe is “dark” matter”?” Shows how much Nereid follows the Universe Today website (oh, I forgot, Nereid only comes here when she’s alerted that ‘electromagnetism’ is being discussed and she needs to knock it down to get her paycheck). So, to spoon-feed Nereid once more: This website, Universe Today, posted November 4th, 2009, “New CMB Measurements Support Standard Model”. http://www.universetoday.com/2009/11/04/new-cmb-measurements-support-standard-model/ Where it was reported that the authors of the SLAC study the article was based on claimed (link to SLAC press release at bottom of post): “Their findings lend evidence to the predictions of the Standard Model in which the Universe is composed of 95% dark matter and… Read more »
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Anaconda
November 13, 2009 12:16 PM

Sorry, I’ll stand corrected the 95% figure includes both “dark matter” and “dark energy”.

My apology.

Member
Nereid
November 13, 2009 12:31 PM
@Anaconda: um, dude, it was you who introduced CDM to the discussion! But this is a distraction from the instant post and … There are some delightful comments by your hero, Dr Svalgaard, that I should, perhaps, use re this: In regards to your request, you seem to be asking a negative, which is hard to answer, because “dark” matter is the magical pixie dust that keeps the gravity “only” model from being falsified, so all papers of the type you request include “dark” matter speculation, as a matter of course, to keep the gravity “only” model and its extension, the “big bang” from being falsified. I’ll take this very slowly, one step at a time … First,… Read more »
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Anaconda
November 13, 2009 12:52 PM
DrFlimmer asks reasonable questions. It maybe that the standard solar model is wrong and the ‘Electric Sun’ model is wrong. The sun gives off a lot of matter by CME’s and in it’s general course. More than has been observed & measured coming into the solar system, this works against the ‘Electric sun’ model. But likely the Sun does not have a “nuclear furnace” at its center, rather, it has a hot, high pressure (due to gravity) ball of plasma, where there are no magnetic fields or electric currents per se, although, as a plasma it is still electrifield, i.e., free electrons & ions. Plasma in this dense, hot state wants to disperse, per the law of entropy,… Read more »
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Anaconda
November 13, 2009 12:58 PM

Nice try Nereid, take it to the Universe Today post, I linked and I’ll think about discussing it, after all it is an old post.

http://www.universetoday.com/2009/11/04/new-cmb-measurements-support-standard-model/

My comment was an aside (yes, I’ll acknowledge it was a dig)…but I can see you are desperate to latch on to it to distract from the presented scientific abstracts in this post.

Member
Anaconda
November 13, 2009 1:06 PM

Continuing with a theme related to the matter in hand and DrFlimmer’s question.

Marklund convection is where matter, primarily plama, is concentrated in a Z-pinch:

“The mechanism provides an efficient means to accumulate matter within a plasma.”

http://www.plasma-universe.com/index.php/Marklund_convection