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Third NASA Sounding Rocket Launch Scheduled For Today; Rocket Designed To Capture 1,500 Images Of The Sun In Just 5 Minutes

First Posted: May 05, 2017 05:30 AM EDT
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Today, May 5, 2017, will mark the third ever NASA sounding rocket launch under the Rapid Acquisition Imaging Spectrograph Experiment (RAISE) program. The sounding rocket is designed to fly 200 miles above the Earth's surface and capture the images of the Sun at an unprecedented speed. It is speculated that the images it will capture will help in tracking and comprehending split-second changes that occur on the surface of the Sun.

Studying the changes in the intensity of the light radiated from the Sun as well as in its magnetic field is highly crucial in understanding and predicting the patterns of solar flares and eruptions. Although there are many missions that are specifically dedicated toward the study of the Sun, viz. Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), understanding the rapid turn of solar events often requires high-cadence observations.

Scientists found that such observations can be made only from the lower Earth orbit rather than from the surface of the Earth itself. This very idea led to the conceptualization of the RAISE program. The researchers from Boulder's Southwest Research Institute working on this program designed sounding rockets that can capture solar spectrographs. These rockets are equipped with ultraviolet imaging spectrographic instruments that can target the active regions of the Sun, Phys.org reported.

The third of its kind sounding rocket will be launched today at around 2:25 p.m. EDT from the White Sands Missile Range, Las Cruces, New Mexico. The short-lived rocket will follow a parabolic trajectory and capture solar spectrographs. It is expected that the spaceflight duration of NASA sounding rocket launch will be as short as 15-20 minutes, only 5 or 6 minutes of which are appropriate for capturing the images (depending upon alignment and projectile angle), as per EurekAlert.

According to Daily Camera Boulder News, during this short duration, the sounding rocket will coordinate with three orbiting satellites, namely, the Hinode Solar Observatory, the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph. Don Hassler, principal investigator of the RAISE program, explained that the cutting-edge technology and instruments employed in the 2017 NASA sounding rocket launch will enable analysis of solar spectrographs that are captured 2/10 seconds apart.

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