Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mission Impossible

Scientists who have been busy lately predicting warmer weather to come later in the century, find out they don't know much about the sun:

The restless bubbling and frothing of the Sun's chaotic surface is astonishing astronomers who have been treated to detailed new images from a Japanese space telescope called Hinode.

...."Everything we thought we knew about X-ray images of the Sun is now out of date," says Leon Golub from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. "We've seen many new and unexpected things.

....The spacecraft carries an optical solar telescope (SOT), an X-ray telescope (XRT) and an ultraviolet spectrometer. It orbits the Earth in a permanent twilight zone between night and day, which gives it a continuous view of the Sun.

Hinode has sent back startling images of the Sun's outer limb. Where astronomers expected to see a calm region called the chromosphere, they saw a seething mass of swaying spikes ....

....Another surprise sighting is that of giant magnetic field loops crashing down onto the Sun's surface as if they were collapsing from exhaustion, a finding that Golub describes as "impossible". Previously, scientists thought they should emerge from the Sun and continue blowing out into space.

"Almost every day, we look at the data and we say – what the heck was that?" says Golub, a member of the XRT science team.

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