NASA To Launch The Finest Mirrors Ever Made

by Jason Major on July 9, 2012

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This Wednesday NASA will launch its High Resolution Coronal Imager (HI-C) mission from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, sending a sounding rocket above the atmosphere with some of the best mirrors ever made to capture incredibly-detailed ultraviolet images of our Sun.

HI-C will use a state-of-the-art imaging system to focus on a region near the center of the Sun about 135,000 miles (271,000 km) across. During its brief flight — only ten minutes long — HI-C will return some of the most detailed images of the Sun’s corona ever acquired, with a resolution five times that of previous telescopes… including NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

While SDO collects images in ten wavelengths, however, HI-C will focus on just one: 193 Angstroms, a wavelength of ultraviolet radiation that best reveals the structures of the Sun’s corona present in temperatures of 1.5 million kelvin. And although HI-C’s mirrors aren’t any larger than SDO’s — about 9.5 inches in diameter — they are “some of the finest ever made.” In addition, an interior “maze” between mirrors effectively increases HI-C’s focal length.

Researchers expect HI-C’s super-smooth mirrors to resolve coronal structures as small as 100 miles (160 km) across (0.1 arcsec/pixel).

“Other instruments in space can’t resolve things that small, but they do suggest – after detailed computer analysis of the amount of light in any given pixel – that structures in the sun’s atmosphere are about 100 miles across,” said Jonathan Cirtain, project scientist for HI-C at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “And we also have theories about the shapes of structures in the atmosphere, or corona, that expect that size. HI-C will be the first chance we have to see them.”

One of the main goals of HI-C will be to place significant new constraints on theories of coronal heating and structuring, by observing the small-scale processes that exist everywhere in hot magnetized coronal plasma and establishing whether or not there are additional structures below what can currently be seen.

“This instrument could push the limits on theories of coronal heating, answering questions such as why the temperature of the sun’s corona is millions of degrees higher than that of the surface,” said Marshall’s Dr. Jonathan Cirtain, heliophysicist and principle investigator on the mission.

Read more on the NASA news release here.

Top image: A Black Brant sounding rocket containing NASA’s HI-C mission will launch on July 11, 2012 to observe the sun’s corona. (NASA) Bottom image: TRACE image of the Sun at a resolution of 0.5 arcsec/pixel. HI-C will have a resolution 5 times finer.

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A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Rootdown July 9, 2012 at 9:47 PM

Those mirrors are so fine. They are so fine they blow my mind.

John Clinton July 9, 2012 at 10:27 PM

Same mirrors they use in the bathrooms at the Ritz.

Tony Mach July 10, 2012 at 10:36 AM

Why don’t they put the telescope in a proper orbit? Or at least on the ISS? I don’t understand this, the finest mirrors ever made, and they waste them on a 10 minute suborbital flight?

squidgeny July 10, 2012 at 11:44 AM

Getting all the way into orbit is a lot more expensive fuel-wise. Presumably they calculated that the expected scientific return would not justify the cost.

The mirrors won’t be “wasted” – they will still exist after the flight and will probably be re-used. I can imagine super-precise mirrors having lots of applications (not just astronomy), so I wouldn’t be surprised if future uses for those mirrors have already been lined up.

Philip G Cathell July 11, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Correct Squid… I heard Dr. Cirtain has a “re-fly” for Hi-C already in the planning process. Sounding Rockets are cheap!

Sarv-NASA Incorporated July 11, 2012 at 3:42 PM

AR 1520 is just a sign of the sun trying to rig out some HF/FM radio transmitters….. and AR 1472 was a sign of a little business deal in progress…. however, sensing bad vibes floating in from everywhere…. he backed out of the deal….
and the flares & CMEs (there have not been many real CMEs in the recent past, with juices squirting out on eit304 images lately)…… and the sun is now trying to control his anger, and you don’t see many filaments there…. however, unnecessary useless alien space-invaders are being warned to stay away….. and the useless editors who copy & paste these useless reports are advised to refrain from publishing these freak reports….. or be ready to be sued for defamation…..
Space agencies too are advised not to play these stupid HD tricks anymore….. and find jobs elsewhere in chinese factories……
Now that you too know about the existence of the sun as a man another living somewhere….. we expect everyone to just shut up……

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