NASA Teams with Japan, United Kingdom and Europe to Study Sun

Washington - To shed new light on the sun's magnetic field and how it affects life on Earth, NASA is preparing major instrument components for a September launch on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Solar-B spacecraft.

Solar-B is a collaboration among the space agencies of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Solar-B's three instruments - a solar optical telescope, an X-ray telescope and an extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer - will perform coordinated measurements of different layers of the solar atmosphere, according to a September 18 NASA press release.

Continuous, simultaneous observations of specific solar features by all three instruments will allow Solar-B to observe how changes in the magnetic field at the sun’s surface spread through the layers of the solar atmosphere.

"The information that Solar-B will provide is significant for understanding and forecasting of solar disturbances,” said Solar-B project scientist John Davis, at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, “which can interfere with satellite communications, electric power transmission grids, and threaten the safety of astronauts traveling beyond the safety of the Earth's magnetic field."

JAXA is the lead agency for the Solar-B mission, supplying the spacecraft, the launch vehicle and space operations management.

NASA provided the focal plane package for the solar optical telescope, components for the solar X-ray telescope and the extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, and engineering support for integrating the instruments.

The solar optical telescope will be the first space-borne instrument to measure the strength and direction of the sun's magnetic field in the sun’s low atmosphere, also called the photosphere.

The X-ray telescope will capture the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona. The corona is the spawning ground for solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

Powered by the sun's magnetic field, this explosive solar activity produces significant effects in the space between the sun and Earth.

By combining observations from Solar-B's optical and X-ray telescopes, scientists will be able to study how changes in the sun's magnetic field trigger these powerful events.

The extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer will measure the speed of solar particles. The spectrometer provides a crucial link between the other two instruments, measuring layers that separate the photosphere from the corona – an area called the chromosphere and the chromosphere-corona transition region. The spectrometer also will be able to measure the temperature and density of solar plasma – the hot, ionized gas surrounding the sun.

After its launch from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, the Solar-B spacecraft will circle Earth in an orbit that puts the instruments in continuous sunlight for nine months each year.

NASA and the science teams will support instrument operations and data collection from the spacecraft operations center at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science facility.

More information about the Solar-B and full text of the press release are available at the NASA Web site.