NASA has recently said that NuSTAR, a very sensitive X-ray space telescope designed for black hole hunting, is about to solve the mystery surrounding our Sun’s outer atmosphere also called the solar corona. It seems that both our closest star and black holes irradiate huge amounts of high energy X-Rays, and NuSTAR is just the right telescope for the job.
Scientists said that a telescope would get really damaged from staring at our sun just like our eyes would. For instance, Chandra X-ray telescope would instantly stop working, if it were to gaze at the sun. Experts say that the sun irradiates so much low-energy X-rays that would actually ‘blind’ Chandra.
However, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is different. It wasn’t design to capture low-energy X-rays like Chandra, but only high-energy ones. That’s because black holes usually generate high-energy X-rays and NuSTAR was especially designed to hunt them and analyze their X-Ray spectrum.
The idea to use NuSTAR for solar observations belongs to David Smith, a solar physicist at the University of California. He was the one to contact NuSTAR team and ask them to employ this highly sensitive space telescope on solar analysis.
At first, the team was reluctant since NuSTAR was mainly designed to hunt remote space objects located in far-far away galaxies, while the sun was in ‘our own back yard,’ as a NASA astrophysicist put it. However, Mr. Smith’s request was reasonable because NuSTAR is the only space telescope capable of spotting nanoflares – invisible solar particles located in our sun’s corona.
Nanoflares are not visible with the naked eye, but they usually release high-energy X-ray flashes that are ‘visible’ to special telescopes such as NASA NuSTAR telescope.
Scientists say that by observing those particles they could get an answer to a set of questions related to our sun’s corona. Solar experts say that the corona is hotter than our sun’s surface. For instance, on its surface the sun records a few thousand degrees Fahrenheit, while in its outer atmosphere (the corona) it records more than 1.5 million degree F.
Scientists also say that this phenomenon defies all the laws of physics. If we compare it with a daily life experience, the situation on the Sun is similar to a light bulb that is much cooler than the air surrounding it. But the laws of thermodynamics state that the air gets cooler as you get farther from the heat source.
NASA researchers now hope that NuSTAR would solve the mystery and confirm one of their previous theories that nanoflares act like sparks within our sun’s corona and heat it up.
Image Source: NASA