This is the first time a telescope designed to detect black holes was used to photograph the star of the Solar System. NASA decided to turn its NuSTAR X-Ray probe towards the Sun for a change and the images it captured are stunning.
The NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) spacecraft is actually a telescope sent in space to search for black holes and capture their image using high-energy X-rays. It has been circling the Earth’s orbit since June 2012. The aim of the project is to collect data that might help understand how stars collapse and create black holes. It also tries to discover the way particles interact in active galaxies
Solar scientist came up with the idea of photographing the Sun in 2007, long before NuSTAR was sent into space. One of the reasons for using this type of telescope is that other models cannot be used due to the Sun’s brightness. NuSTAR captures high-energy X-rays that, compared to visible light, are not powerful enough to harm its sensors.
When scientists first pitched the idea to Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR principal investigator, she considered the whole project to be senseless. She recalled asking herself why would anyone agree to using “most sensitive high-energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe” too peek at something as close as the Sun?
She later changed her mind, realizing that this could be the opportunity to solve some of the most mind-boggling solar mysteries. The project resulted in capturing “the most sensitive solar picture ever taken using high-energy X-rays.”
The blue and green light seen in the picture represent high-energy solar emissions, the former being rays of a higher intensity. This first picture covered a second one taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory that captured the red part of the final image. This red area represents ultraviolet light.
The probe is now programmed to observe the Sun in the hope it will detect Nano-flares, a possible answer to the difference in temperature between the solar corona and the surface. The outer atmosphere, also known as the corona is hotter (1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit, meaning 1 million degrees Celsius) compared to the solar surface (10,800 degrees Fahrenheit or 6,000 degrees Celsius).
NuSTAR’s second objective is to hopefully find axions, particles that would explain dark matter. This is a hard to define concept that scientists believe to “account for gravitational effects that appear to result from invisible mass”. The discovery of axions could mean the beginning of the end for another complex astrophysics mystery.
Image Source: NBC News
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