NASA captures hidden light shows on the sun that could explain why our star’s outermost layer reaches more than a million degrees – at least 100 times hotter than its surface
- NASA has captured hidden X-ray and ultraviolet lights beam from the sun
- This could explain why the sun’s outermost layer is extremely hot
- The news comes as NASA captured the moment a piece of the sun broke off
NASA has observed never-before-seen light shows beaming from the sun.
Using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the American space agency captured various X-rays emitted by the hottest material in our star’s atmosphere.
High-energy X-rays were observed in only a few locations, while low-energy X-rays and ultraviolet light were detected across the ball of gas’s entire face.
Scientists hope the new views will help them solve one of the sun’s biggest mysteries: why its outer atmosphere reaches more than a million degrees – at least 100 times hotter than its surface.
NASA shared a new image of the sun, revealing hidden light shows on its outermost layer called the corona
NuSTAR usually spends its time investigating the mysteries of black holes, supernovae, and other high-energy objects in space, but it can also look closer to home to study our sun.
The high-energy X-rays seen by NuSTAR are shown in blue, while green represents lower-energy X-rays from the X-ray Telescope instrument on the Hinode spacecraft, named after the Japanese word for sunrise.
And the red colors show ultraviolet light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
NuSTAR collected 25 images of the sun last June, allowing NASA to piece together a single picture showing different colored lights beaming from the surface.
NASA also collected observations from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode mission, shown in green and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which captured ultraviolet light in red.
While astronomers are perplexed by the source of the corona’s, the sun’s outermost layer, heat, they speculate it could come from small eruptions in the sun’s atmosphere called nanoflares.
Flares are large outbursts of heat, light, and particles visible to a wide range of solar observatories.
While nanoflares are much smaller events, both types produce material even hotter than the average temperature of the corona.
The high-energy X-rays seen by NuSTAR are shown in blue
The green represents lower-energy X-rays from the X-ray Telescope instrument on the Hinode spacecraft, named after the Japanese word for sunrise
The red colors show ultraviolet light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory
NASA said in a statement that regular flares are not frequent enough to keep the corona at the high temperatures scientists observe, but nanoflares may occur much more frequently – perhaps often enough that they collectively heat the corona.
Individual nanoflares have gone unobserved due to the sun’s blazing light, but NuSTAR can detect light from the high-temperature material thought to be produced when a large number of nanoflares occur close to one another.
This ability enables physicists to investigate how frequently nanoflares occur and how they release energy.
This month, NASA also made another exciting discovery when it observed a piece of the sun’s northern pole break off.
Space weather forecaster Tamitha Skov shared a video on Twitter and said NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took the clip.
‘Talk about polar vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament & is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around the north pole of our star,’ Skov shared in the tweet.
NASA describes solar filaments as clouds of charged particles that float above the sun, tethered to it by magnetic forces.
These appear as elongated, uneven strands that shoot out from the sun’s surface.
The prominence mentioned by Skov, appears precisely at the 55-degree latitude around the sun’s polar crowns every 11 years.
Solar physicist Scott McIntosh, the deputy director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told Space.com: ‘Once every solar cycle, it forms at the 55-degree latitude and it starts to march up to the solar poles.
A piece of the sun broke off this month and is circling the northern pole like a tornado. This is the first time scientists have seen such an event
‘It’s very curious. There is a big ‘why’ question around it. Why does it only move toward the pole one time and then disappears and then comes back, magically, three or four years later in exactly the same region?’
While astronomers have previously observed filaments breaking away from the sun, this is the first time one has circulated the region in a whirlwind.
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