The recently launched Japanese Hinode spacecraft is turning in some amazing new photographs of the Sun as part of its checkout phase.
The spacecraft is flying in a sun-synchronous polar flight orbit that allows its instruments to remain in sunlight for 9 months of the years. As for instruments, Hinode is equipped with three: the Solar Optical Telescope, the X-ray Telescope, and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer.
First up, the Solar Optical Telescope, allows the spacecraft to see magnified views of the Sun’s surface. This will reveal solar convection, where gas rises and falls in the photosphere. It will also be able to detect and measure the strength and direction of the Sun’s magnetic field.
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Next, the X-ray Telescope reveals the Sun’s corona; its outer atmosphere. This is the region that spawns the massive coronal mass ejections, which can send material towards the Earth, interfering with communications and creating beautiful auroras.
The final instrument is the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer. This gadget measures the speed of solar material, and allows astronomers to measure the temperature and density of the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
Hinode’s full science mission begins in late December. The calibrations will end, and full time scientific observations will begin.