BOULDER--The space shuttle Discovery, scheduled for takeoff Thursday,October 29, is carrying a white light coronograph (WLC), an instrumentfor studying the sun's corona, developed at the High AltitudeObservatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). TheWLC is on board the Spartan 201-05, a small satellite laboratory thatwill be launched from Discovery and then retrieved later during theshuttle mission. The WLC and a companion instrument, an ultravioletcoronal spectrometer (UVCS) developed at Harvard University, will allowresearchers to investigate the solar corona and the solar wind. NCAR'sprimary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.
"The space shuttle program offers a unique opportunity to flyretrievable instruments in space, where there is no scattered light fromthe earth's atmosphere," explains Michael Knˆlker. Knˆlker directs theHigh Altitude Observatory (HAO), where the WLC was developed and builtin collaboration with scientists at the National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA).
NCAR researchers will analyze the data brought back by the twoinstruments to create a better picture of the outermost layer of thesun. Solar storms launched by coronal mass ejections are the cause ofgeomagnetic storms that can lead to the sudden failure of communicationssatellites and electric power grids here on earth. With the WLC,researchers have a tool to determine densities of the corona. Thecoronograph obscures the disk of the sun, revealing the otherwiseinvisible corona, much the way the moon obstructs the sun during a solareclipse. By launching the WLC from the space shuttle, researchers avoidthe light-scattering caused by dust in the earth's atmosphere, whichinterferes with ground-based coronographs.
HAO's Gregory Card is project engineer and the HAO-NASA liaison. Hespent several years commuting between Boulder, NASA Goddard Space FlightCenter, and Kennedy Space Center to prepare the coronograph andintegrate it with the spacecraft. Card is at NASA Ground Control inHouston, where he will oversee WLC telemetry during the mission. He canbe reached at (281) 483-2410.
The Spartan 201-05 with its solar research instruments on board isscheduled for deployment on Sunday, November 1. If all goes well it willbe retrieved on November 3. During the Spartan 201-5 mission, near-real-time images from the WLC will be availableon the Web athttp://thalia.gsfc.nasa.gov/~gibson/SPARTAN/spartan.html.
NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research,a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmosphericand related sciences.
Writer: Zhenya Gallon
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