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Carbon Fibre Probing the Most Energetic Explosions in the Solar System

17 September 2006

Carbon fibre instruments on Solar-B will measure the movement of magnetic fields and how the Suns atmosphere responds to these movements.

Solar flares are tremendous explosions on the surface of our Sun, releasing as much energy as a billion megatons of TNT in the form of radiation, high energy particles and magnetic fields. The Suns magnetic fields are known to be an extremely important factor in producing the energy for flaring and when these magnetic fields lines clash together, dragging hot gas with them, an enormous maelstrom of energy is released. This boiling cauldron of plasma is ejected at huge speeds into the solar system and high energy particles, such as protons, can arrive at Earth within tens of minutes, to be followed a few days later by Coronal Mass Ejections, huge bubbles of gas threaded with magnetic field lines, which can cause major magnetic disturbances on Earth, sometimes with catastrophic results.

Whilst scientists understand the flaring process very well they cannot predict when one of these enormous explosions will occur. The Solar-B mission, designed and built by teams in the UK, US and Japan, will investigate the so called trigger phase of these events.

“Solar flares are fast and furious they can cause communication black-outs at Earth within 30 minutes of a flare erupting on the Suns surface. Its imperative that we understand what triggers these events with the ultimate aim of being able to predict them with greater accuracy,” said Prof. Louise Harra, the UK Solar-B project scientist based at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory [UCL/MSSL].

Solar-B will measure the movement of magnetic fields and how the Suns atmosphere responds to these movements. Since the Sun is constantly changing on small timescales Solar-B will be able to distinguish between steady movements and the changes that will build-up to a flare.

Solar-B carries three instruments which have been designed to explore the critical trigger phase of solar flares. The UK (UCL/MSSL) led EIS instrument, an extremely lightweight 3-metre long telescope, will measure the dynamical behaviour of the Suns atmosphere to a higher accuracy than ever before, allowing measurement of small-scale changes occurring during the critical build-up to a flare.

In order to make the EIS as light as possible they used a carbon fibre structure, according to Dr Ady James, EIS Instrument Project Manager at UCL/MSSL. The spacecraft will be launched on the 22nd September 22:00 UT from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Uchinoura Space Centre at Uchinoura Kagoshima in southern Japan.





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