Designed to study black holes, supernovas and objects beyond our solar system, NASA’s newest telescope took a break from probing the farthest reaches of our cosmos to take this stunning high-energy X-ray photo of our sun.
Thanks to the advocacy of David Smith, a solar physicist and member of the NuSTAR team at University of California, Santa Cruz, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) was recently directed to set its gaze on the sun. According to Smith, “NuSTAR will give us a unique look at the sun, from the deepest to the highest parts of its atmosphere.”
In the featured image above, scientists can for the first time see the sun’s faintest x-ray emissions (depicted in hues of green and blue), which until now existed only in theory.
Smith is also hoping NuSTAR will shed light on and confirm the existence of nanoflares that scientists believe “may explain why the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, is sizzling hot, a mystery called the ‘coronal heating problem.'” While the surface of the sun is relatively cool at 10,800 Fahrenheit (6,000 degrees Celsius), the corona on average is 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius).
According to NASA, since the sun is too bright for conventional NASA telescopes, NuSTAR’s higher-energy X-ray detecting lenses and instruments are perfect for studying the sun and capturing these nanoflares, which together with solar flares may be the source of the sun’s extraordinarily hot corona.
There is also the possibility of discovering evidence of dark matter within the center of the sun itself. With luck, NuSTAR may be able to detect axions, a theorized particle associated with dark matter that can only be seen in the form of X-rays.
NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission launched in 2012 that is made possible by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CalTech and Orbital Sciences Corporation, with the main operation center located at UC Berkeley.
(Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC)