National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Connecting the Dots: FOXSI-3 Data Points add up to Unprecedented Image of Solar Corona

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Full solar disk image of the corona made with pointillism using all soft X-ray photons detected by FOXSI-3.

Scientists have begun analyzing data about the solar corona captured by the FOXSI-3 sounding rocket experiment. This is the world’s first solar corona data where each soft X-ray was captured with high contrast, and high resolution in position, time, and energy. While this alone is outstanding, by combining the data points astronomers can create unprecedented images and graphs.

The solar corona is a layer in the Sun’s atmosphere. It is filled with hot plasmas at temperatures of more than 1 million degrees Celsius. The corona is a dynamic environment where various energy releases occur, the most famous being solar flares. The coronal plasmas ejected by a solar flare can sometimes reach the Earth and affect our environment and technology. Thus, the study of the Sun has important practical applications.

The corona emits most of its light as X-rays. But X-rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, so observations from space are required.

Noriyuki Narukage, NAOJ Assistant Professor, and Shin-nosuke Ishikawa, a researcher at Nagoya University, together with the scientists at Kavli IPMU / The University of Tokyo and Institute of Space and Astronautical Science / Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS/JAXA), developed a high-speed soft X-ray camera and installed it on the sounding rocket FOXSI-3 which flew above the Earth’s atmosphere for 6 minutes to observe the Sun. This camera was the first in the world to record individual solar soft X-rays with high contrast and high resolution in position, time, and energy.

Once spatial-, temporal-, and energy- information about individual photons is obtained, scientists can analyze these data in various ways. For example, by arranging all detected photons in 2-dimensional space, they can obtain a solar image through pointillism. Different analysis yields the temporal evolution and energy distribution of the X-rays.

Please watch this webpage or the FOXSI-3 twitter (@foxsirocket3) for new revelations discovered in the data.

This research is supported in part by JSPS KAKENHI Grants. The FOXSI-3 sounding rocket is funded by a NASA LCAS grant.

Image: FOXSI-3 soft X-ray instrument.
FOXSI-3 soft X-ray instrument.

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