NASA Launches VERIS Rocket to Study Sun's Explosive Behavior

First Posted: Aug 05, 2013 08:56 AM EDT

Want to learn more about the sun? NASA certainly does. The space agency is planning on launching a sounding rocket on August 8 in order to learn a bit more about our closest star. Scientists hope to measure properties of the structures in the sun's upper atmosphere with images that will be eight times clearer than any similar telescope currently in space.

Observing the sun is important for understanding the phenomenon of space weather. Our star can hurl particles toward Earth in the form of a coronal mass ejection (CME), which can interrupt satellites and communications. Learning a bit more about the structures that fluctuate on the sun could, potentially, allow researchers to predict these kinds of events and better prepare for them.

Actually studying these processes, though, can be difficult. Different instruments and techniques must be used to study different temperatures of material or different layers of the sun from its surface out into its active upper atmosphere, the corona. The new rocket, called the Very high Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (VERIS), will focus on the very hot material present in the sun's active regions. These areas are often the location of eruptions on the sun such as solar flares and CMEs.

"On the sun, these large scale energy releases are driven by small scale physical processes," said Clarence Korendyke, one of the researchers, in a news release. "So we need to look at and understand the tiny details of those processes."

VERIS's flight will only last six minutes, but it will yield a bounty of information. It will gather a kind of data known as spectra of this region of the sun at an extremely high resolution. Spectra will provide information on how much of any given wavelength of light is present. This, in turn, can allow researchers to see the different temperatures of plasma present on the sun. In addition VERIS will collect density and velocity information about the active region. This will allow scientists to determine which theory is correct when it comes to how the sun is heated.

"There are two categories of theories on how the corona is heated," said Angelos Vourlidas, project scientists for VERIS, in a news release. "One proposal is that small bursts of energy, called microflares, constantly erupt, heating the material. Another is that waves flow up from the surface to the corona. VERIS will be able to provide temperature information at the smallest level, and help distinguish between these theories."

After VERIS is launched, it will hopefully allow researchers to help unravel the complex behavior of our closest star.

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