Solar-staring spacecraft shows its flare

Hurling a storm of charged particles earthward, this solar eruption was imaged Dec. 13, 2006, by the recently launched Japanese–U.S.–British Hinode spacecraft (SN: 11/11/06, p. 309: New eye on the sun).


A flare (bright areas) arches over a sunspot, whose dark region’s diameter is about four times as large as that of Earth. This ultrasharp image of the sun’s chromosphere, a layer sandwiched between the star’s visible surface and its outer atmosphere, reveals a surprisingly complex array of filaments of roiling gas, some as small as 70 kilometers across, says Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s heliophysics division in Washington, D.C. The structure dovetails with other Hinode images that show an array of looping magnetic fields closer to the sun’s surface. The images, released by NASA this week, provide new insight into the magnetic origin of solar eruptions.

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