NASA snapped a stunning X-ray image of the sun, which scientists hope will provide a more detailed picture, giving insight into the incredibly high temperatures that are found above sunspots. NASA also hopes that the X-ray picture of the sun will provide more information on why the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, is so hot, at one million degrees Celsius, while its surface is much cooler at 6,000 degrees Celsius.
In addition to that, scientists also hope that future pictures taken could unravel other sun mysteries, such as the long-hypothesized theory of dark matter particles called axions. Scientists theorize that dark matter, which is defined as a mysterious material that has mass yet can’t be seen, may make up as much as a quarter of the entire universe. So far, experiments in both space and on Earth have failed to definitively confirm its presence.
Further X-ray pictures of the sun could be helpful in the search for nano flares, which are smaller versions of the sun’s giant flares. Flares in the sun occur because of eruptions of charged particles and high-energy radiation.
The X-ray picture was taken by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, also called NuSTAR, pictured above, which was originally designed to search for black holes and other objects in space. It is, says NASA, the most sensitive high-energy X-ray telescope ever built, and although it was admittedly not designed to look at objects as close as the sun, it is able to detect things that other telescopes are not capable of seeing. The sun is simply too bright for most other telescopes to safely view without risking damage to its detectors.
When Dr. Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at CalTech, heard about the idea of using NuSTAR to look at the sun, she was initially very skeptical.
“At first I thought the whole idea was crazy,” she said in the statement. “Why would we have the most sensitive high-energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe, look at something in our own back yard?”
But the idea persisted, and has been successful.
“NuSTAR will give us a unique look at the sun, from the deepest to the highest parts of its atmosphere,” said David Smith, who is a solar physicist and a member of the NuSTAR team at University of California, Santa Cruz.
As for the actual picture itself, the reds seen in the sun are ultraviolet light, and show the presence of materials around one million degrees. The bursts of green and blue represent high-energy X-ray emissions from gas that has been heated to above three million degrees. It is, all told, a stunning picture of the sun.
For more on amazing space, read here about the scientists who have used data gathered by the sun to come closer in proving the elusive theory of dark matter.
[Images via NASA]