Japanese Launch Sun Microscope

On Saturday, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched  the M-V Launch Vehicle No. 7 (M-V-7) at 6:36 a.m. Japan Standard Time from the Uchinoura Space Center.

Within an hour, JAXA started receiving signals from the rocket’s satellite payload —  the SOLAR-B, a sun observation "microscrope" nicknamed "Hinode" ("sunrise") by JAXA engineers.

The BBC has more
on the SOLAR-B and its mission of studying solar flares, which "release the equivalent of tens of millions of hydrogen bombs in just a few minutes:"

 The probe will attempt to find out more about the magnetic fields thought to power solar flares, and try to identify the trigger that sets them off.

The ultimate goal for scientists is to use the new insights to make better forecasts of the Sun’s behaviour.

Flares can hurl radiation and super-fast particles in the direction of the Earth, disrupting radio signals, frying satellite electronics, and damaging the health of astronauts….

Solar-B is expected to transform our understanding [of solar flares].

It carries three instruments: a Solar Optical Telescope (SOT), an X-ray Telescope and an Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer.

They will make continuous, simultaneous observations of specific solar features, to observe how changes in the magnetic field at the Sun’s surface can spread through the layers of the solar atmosphere to produce, ultimately, a flare.

"Solar-B acts essentially like a microscope, probing the fine details of what the magnetic field is doing as it builds up to a flare," said mission scientist Professor Louise Harra, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL, UK.

"What we don’t know is what triggers a flare; we don’t understand the physics of that phase at all. Solar-B will show us how tangled the field is, and how the field lines collide to produce all that energy."

In October, NASA will contribute to the growing understanding of solar flares when it launches its Stereo mission – twin spacecraft that will make 3D observations of the sun.

Better understanding of solar flares is critical, as John Davis, Solar-B project scientist at Nasa’s Marshall Center, told the BBC.

"The information that Solar-B will provide is significant for understanding and forecasting of solar disturbances, which can interfere with satellite communications, electric power transmission grids, and threaten the safety of astronauts travelling beyond the safety of the Earth’s magnetic field," he said.

(Video of the M-V-7 launch can be found here (in the right hand column).)