First image of mysterious solar activity captured by NOAA
NOAA’s Solar Ultraviolet Imager or SUVI instrument aboard solar observatory GOES-16 satellite that was launched on November 19 last year has become operational and has captured its first ever image of mysterious solar activity on Jan 29, 2017. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has shared the stunning image showing very large coronal holes on the Sun.
Sun has 11-year activity cycle. While approaching to the solar maximum, Sun becomes violent with a large number of solar flares and vice versa happens in solar minimum. Scientists explained that our Sun is close to solar minimum and facing scarcity of solar flares resulting in coronal holes which are common in this season. Coronal holes are nothing but a solar region where corona appears darker when compared to neighbouring region. These dark holes occur because the plasma has high-speed streams open to interplanetary space, resulting in a cooler and lower-density area as compared to its surroundings.
Solar corona is one of the hottest objects in our Solar Sytem such that scientists need X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) cameras to observe it. Different elements emit X-rays and EUV of different wavelengths depending on the temperature; scientists use this data to draw the structure of corona. SUVI camera aboard GOES-16 observes solar activity on six different EUV channels.
According to NASA, “The sun’s upper atmosphere, or solar corona, consists of extremely hot plasma, an ionized gas. This plasma interacts with the sun’s powerful magnetic field, generating bright loops of material that can be heated to millions of degrees. Outside hot coronal loops, there are cool, dark regions called filaments, which can erupt and become a key source of space weather when the sun is active. Other dark regions are called coronal holes, which occur where the sun’s magnetic field allows plasma to stream away from the sun at high speed. The effects linked to coronal holes are generally milder than those of coronal mass ejections, but when the outflow of solar particles is intense – can pose risks to satellites in Earth orbit.”
Scientists are worried about the coronal mass ejections as they have the capability to disturb Earth’s magnetic field and destroy the power grids by tripping circuit breakers, break communication, and damage satellites.
SUVI replaces the GOES Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) instrument in previous GOES satellites and represents a change in both spectral coverage and spatial resolution over SXI.
NASA successfully launched GOES-R from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and it was renamed GOES-16 when it achieved orbit. GOES-16 is now observing the planet from an equatorial view approximately 22,300 miles above the surface of Earth.
SUVI telescope has the capability to see Sun on different EUV channels and capture full disk images of Sun around the clock. Scientists believe that GOES-16 will reveal more data than other geostationary solar observatories. SUVI data can help scientists accurately predict weather changes by estimating the coronal plasma temperatures. Apparently, SUVI will give deeper insight on solar activities like coronal mass ejections, solar flares, etc.
NOAA’s satellites are the backbone of its life-saving weather forecasts. GOES-16 will build upon and extend the more than 40-year legacy of satellite observations from NOAA that the American public has come to rely upon.