Credit: NASA

Candid Snaps of a Star's Outburst

Flares from the sun are the most violent events in the solar system. These explosions, originating just above the solare surface, spew damaging high energy particles and radiation into space. The earth's atmosphere and magnetic field protects us from the most harmful effects of solar flares, but solar flares can damage communication satellites and other complex equipment (including humans) placed in space. Though solar flares were first seen in 1859, the physical processes behind these eruptions are still not very well understood. A new space observatory promises to dramatically help improve our understanding of these dangerous explosions. The new satellite is called the High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Image, or HESSI. HESSI, an international collaboration led by Prof. Robert Lin (University of California, Berkeley) as principal investigator, will study the production of energetic particles and high energy X-rays in flares using a unique combination of X-ray and gamma-ray imaging and spectroscopy. This will, for the first time, allow astronomers to make a movie of the evolution of the high energy spectrum of solar flares, to identify the physical process behind the eruption. HESSI was launched on February 5, 2002, and is currently in a check-out mode just prior to obtaining its first science results.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified February 18, 2002