NASA chooses a SHOEBOX-sized satellite to study the origins of plasma in the solar corona


NASA said on Monday it had selected a cubic satellite the size of a shoebox to measure the solar corona and understand the origins of hot plasma on the dangerous part of the star.

The cubesat, known as the CubeSat Imaging X-Ray Solar Spectrometer or CubIXSS, is designed by a team led by the Southwest Research Institute and will launch in 2024.

The sun’s surface temperature is over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but the corona regularly measures over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit.

The US space agency is particularly interested in hot plasma, a highly ionized gas, given that it is located primarily in solar flares and other active regions of the sun, which are often the site of “solar storms”, solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) take place.

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“A solar flare occurs because the magnetic field in this active region has become so twisted and tangled that it snaps back into a less tangled shape,” said SwRI lead scientist Dr Amir Caspi, chief of the mission in a declaration.

“This snap releases a lot of energy, which we think of as a solar flare.”

NASA said on Monday it had selected a cubic satellite the size of a shoebox to measure the solar corona and understand the origins of hot plasma in the sun’s danger zone.

Hot plasma is located in solar flares and other active regions of the sun where

Hot plasma is located in solar flares and other active regions of the sun where “solar storms”, solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur. The solar corona (pictured) regularly measures over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit

The solar corona – its outermost atmosphere – is of great interest to NASA and other researchers around the world.

In August, NASA spear an X-ray solar imager to determine why the sun’s corona is getting significantly hotter than the surface.

The sun’s surface temperature is over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but the corona regularly measures over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit.

“One of the interesting things that we don’t really know is how much plasma in solar flares is heated directly in the corona, and how much is heated in the Sun’s lower atmosphere and then transported to the corona. “, added Caspi.

Although small by normal satellite standards, CubIXSS is larger than a standard cube satellite and will be about the size of a shoebox.

“CubIXSS will measure the X-rays that come from these phenomena, to allow us to unravel this mystery.”

Solar flares occur in the corona region which heats up to “tens of millions of degrees Celsius”, the statement adds, far hotter than the corona itself.

Solar flares occur in the corona region which heats up to

Solar flares occur in the corona region which heats up to “tens of millions of degrees Celsius”, the statement adds, much hotter than the corona itself

“Certain elemental species – certain ions – can only exist within a specific temperature range, so seeing which elements are most prevalent helps us create a temperature map,” Caspi added.

“Previous observations have shown a higher proportion of certain elements in the corona than in other regions of the Sun.

“By measuring the abundances of these elements at each temperature, we will be able to tell where the heated plasma is coming from.”

CubIXSS will be larger than a standard cube satellite and will be about the size of a shoebox.

On board, it will have several spectrometers capable of measuring different wavelengths, or “colors,” of X-rays from the sun.

These wavelengths include a new type of X-ray imaging spectrometer to determine the amounts of certain key elements in the solar corona, which in turn will allow Caspi to identify where this plasma has been heated.

It will be the first cubic satellite capable of coherently measuring the wavelengths of solar X-ray emissions.

These emissions are not only able to determine the solar elements, but also offer insight into the impact of satellites in the Earth’s atmosphere.

They can also cause changes in the Earth’s ionosphere and impact radio communications.

“Even though it may seem very academic, the study of the sun is very important for people living on Earth. It drives almost everything that happens on our planet,” Caspi explained.

“CMEs and solar flares can impact satellites and radio frequencies, disrupting communications both on Earth and with satellites in space.

“Understanding how these things happen is very important to understanding why they happen, which will help us predict these ‘space weather’ events and mitigate their effects.”

Work will begin on the cube satellite later this year, although its cost is yet to be determined.

The satellite will be launched in 2024 as a “secondary payload” as part of another launch, the statement added.

In January, researchers discovered why the solar corona is chemically different from other layers of the star.

The study showed that magnetic waves in the chromosphere – the middle layer of the Sun – split the plasma, forcing only charged ions into the corona and leaving neutral particles behind.

WHAT IS THE SOLAR CYCLE?

The Sun is a huge ball of hot, electrically charged gas that moves around, generating a powerful magnetic field.

This magnetic field follows a cycle called the solar cycle.

About every 11 years, the Sun’s magnetic field reverses completely, which means that the north and south poles of the sun change places.

The solar cycle affects activity on the Sun’s surface, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields.

Every 11 years, the Sun's magnetic field shifts, which means that the north and south poles of the Sun change places.  The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, increasing the number of sunspots during stronger phases (2001) than weaker ones (1996/2006)

Every 11 years, the Sun’s magnetic field shifts, which means that the north and south poles of the Sun change places. The solar cycle affects activity on the Sun’s surface, increasing the number of sunspots during stronger phases (2001) than weaker ones (1996/2006)

One way to track the solar cycle is to count the number of sunspots.

The start of a solar cycle is solar minimum, or when the Sun has the fewest sunspots. Over time, solar activity – and the number of sunspots – increases.

The middle of the solar cycle is solar maximum, or when the Sun has the most sunspots.

At the end of the cycle, it returns to solar minimum, and then a new cycle begins.

Giant flares on the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, also increase during the solar cycle.

These eruptions send powerful blasts of energy and matter out into space that can have effects on Earth.

For example, flares can cause lights in the sky, called auroras, or impact radio communications and power grids on Earth.

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