"Everything we thought we knew about X-ray images of the Sun is now out of date," says Leon Golub from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.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…”
Hinode (Japanese for "sunrise") was launched to study the solar magnetic field and how magnetic energy is released as the field rises into the Sun's outer atmosphere. It orbits the Earth in a permanent twilight zone between night and day, which gives it a continuous view of the Sun.
Astronomers expected to see a calm region called the chromosphere, but what they saw instead was a seething mass of swaying spikes (click on link below to watch a video of the spikes taken by Hinode).
"These structures are 8000 kilometres long and some extend twice that high," says SOT science team member Alan Title from Lockheed Martin Advance Technology Center in Palo Alto, California, US. "Their speed is such that if you sat on the end of one, which I don't recommend, you could travel from Washington, DC, to San Francisco in about four minutes. These things are really moving."
Another discovery is that there are giant magnetic field loops crashing down onto the Sun's surface as if they were collapsing from exhaustion, a finding Golub describes as "impossible". Previously, scientists thought they should emerge from the Sun and continue blowing out into space. I guess, we really don’t know as much about our own Solar System as we think- let alone the entire universe.
Astronomers do not yet know what to make of the surprises, but they hope Hinode will help solve many big puzzles such as why the corona, is far hotter than the layers underneath, which are nearer its energy-generating core, and magnetic field configurations that lead to the most explosive energy releases of all.
Golub admits, "Almost every day, we look at the data and we say – what the heck was that?" Posted by Rebecca Sato.
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