The Hinode (formerly Solar-B) satellite, a joint Japan/NASA/PPARC mission launched on 22nd September 2006, has reported its first observations of the Sun with its suite of scientific instruments. The satellite was renamed 'Hinode' which is Japanese for Sunrise, which is most appropriate since Hinode will watch at close hand massively explosive solar flares erupting from the Sun's surface and rising into interstellar space.
Hinode has three instruments: the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT), the X-Ray Telescope (XRT), and the EUV Imaging Spectrometer (EIS) which has been led by University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL).
"Waiting for the first data from an instrument that has taken years to design and build is always a heart-stopping moment," said Prof Len Culhane, EIS Principal Investigator, "We create incredibly sensitive detectors such as EIS, then strap them to a rocket and hurl them into space under extremely challenging conditions. Finding out that it survived and is working correctly is a huge relief because the options are very limited if it is not."
Each sensitive instrument has successfully survived launch, opened its protective door and taken its first test pictures of the Sun. They are now being prepared to take scientific data over the coming months and will reveal a great deal about Coronal Mass Ejections -- violent explosions on the Sun that can hurl plasma at the Earth itself with serious consequences for communications networks and satellites.
"The first pictures from Hinode show us that our satellite is in great condition," said Prof Louise Harra, EIS Project Scientist who will shortly take over the Principal Investigator role, "The images from the Solar Optical Telescope are already showing a huge improvement over those from past missions such as Yohkoh and will help us understand the Sun in new detail. The EIS instrument will watch movements in the Sun's atmosphere in unprecedented detail, allowing us to observe the build up to a Coronal Mass Ejection and eventually even predict them."
In addition to working on Hinode, UK solar scientists are also part of the NASA STEREO mission, which successfully launched two satellites on 26th October 2006. See http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/Stereo_launch.asp for details.
The sun-observing Hinode satellite (formerly Solar-B) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was launched from the Uchinoura Space Center, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan, on September 22, 2006 at 21:36 GMT, aboard the seventh in JAXA's series of M-V rockets. For two weeks the satellite carried out orbit adjustments, and is now in a sun-synchronous orbit, which allows it to observe the sun for uninterrupted periods lasting months at a time. Hinode contains three instruments dedicated to observing the sun: the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT), the X-Ray Telescope (XRT), and the EUV Imaging Spectrometer (EIS).
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.
PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.
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