The Sun, in HD

This week at our Student Astronomical Society meeting, we looked at the pictures of the Sun captured by NASA’s High Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) telescope last July. The telescope was onboard a NASA sounding rocket and was in the air for only 620 seconds. However, in that short time frame the telescope managed to get 165 of the highest resolution pictures we’ve ever seen of the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona.

Previously, images taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) were the gold standard.  The AIA  has a clarity of 675 miles across and uses 10 different wavelengths of light. The Hi-C telescope, on the other hand, can see as close as 135 miles across in extreme ultraviolet. Below is a comparison of the resolutions from both telescopes. A video comparison is available at this website:

The sounding rocket was 58 feet tall and launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The telescope attached to it was 10 feet long and weighed 464 pounds. That’s one monstrous payload! The telescope was focused on an active part of the Sun’s atmosphere and could fine-tune some of the structures caught on the images from the AIA telescope. Hi-C could to do this because of some improvements made on the mirrors used to build it.

“The increase in resolution of the images captured by Hi-C is similar to making the transition in television viewing from a cathode ray tube TV to high definition TV. Initially developed at Marshall Space Flight Center, the final mirror configuration was completed with inputs from partners at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass., and a new manufacturing technique developed in coordination with L-3Com/Tinsley Laboratories of Richmond, Calif.” – Excerpt from NASA press release

Thanks to NASA’s sounding rockets, many experiments have been conducted in Earth’s upper atmosphere without spending outrageous amounts of money. The rockets also offer opportunities to test new technologies that could one day end up on a satellite or probe going out into space. Go NASA!


*All information and photos taken from

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