Organization:365 Days Of Astronomy
Description: Space scoop, news for children
A new member joining the dwarf planet family very soon – an object called 2014 UZ 224 and nicknamed ‘DeeDee’, short for Distant Dwarf.
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Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.
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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.
CLASP: Guardian of the Satellites
Conducting science in space is never simple. Imagine trying to study a specific region of the Sun in painstaking detail, from 150 million kilometers away – with less than five minutes to do the job.
That’s the task that faced the CLASP project. CLASP stands for the Chromospheric Lyman-Alpha Spectro-Polarimeter.
CLASP is a high-tech telescope with a 30cm or 11 inch diameter mirror. It was packed into a Black Brant IX sounding rocket and launched into space on September 3rd, 2015, from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The 1,270 pound payload flew to an altitude of 167 miles, or 268 kilometers.
This week a team of scientists from Japan, Spain, France, NASA and the University of Alabama have finally finished their analysis of the data it got.
Once in space, CLASP was ejected from the rocket and had just 5 minutes to carry out its observations of the Sun.
It then used a parachute to land safely back on Earth.
Thanks to CLASP, for the first time ever, scientists have been able to explore the magnetic field on the layer of the Sun’s surface called the chromosphere!
The chromosphere, which basically means ‘color ball’ is the layer of the Sun that sits on top of the part that we see with our eyes. That visible part is called the photosphere and is the source of light that powers plant growth here on Earth.
The chromosphere, sitting on top of the photosphere, is less dense but hotter than the layer below and glows with the red light called hydrogen Balmer-α, or just Hydrogen-α.
Lots of amateur astronomers have H-α telescopes for looking at the Sun in that red light. You can see prominences at the edge of the Sun with a scope like that. I’ve got one myself.
But there is another series of spectral lines from hydrogen in the chromosphere called the Lyman series.
The CLASP mission measured the hydrogen Lyman-α line up in the UV part of the spectrum that also comes from the chromosphere and is very sensitive to magnetic fields.
Lyman-α is light that results when the lone electron in a Hydrogen atom cools down and makes the jump from the n=2 orbital to the n=1 orbital.
If you think of the atom like a solar system, this is when the electron goes from the Venus orbit to the Mercury orbit in an instant, in a quantum leap. It gives off a photon whose UV color relates directly to the energy difference between the 2 energy states.
The more the energy difference, the more energetic the photon. This results in a bluer light, and in this case it’s so blue it’s way out in the UV.
By looking at how the light has been polarized, they can work out how strong the magnetic field is and the field’s direction. The team was particularly interested in this so-called Hanle effect polarization.
But why bother studying the magnetic field? Well, not only does it play a crucial role in the shape of the Sun’s surface layers, it acts as a channel for material and energy flowing out of the Sun.
Some of it heads toward us as powerful solar flares that can disrupt our satellites and affect astronauts on the International Space Station.
And when we have astronauts traveling to the Moon or Mars it’s even more important! You can be sure that the astronauts on deep space missions will want to come home healthy and alive!
Better understanding how the Sun releases these bursts of energy will help us prepare for them!
Hey, Here’s A Cool Fact:
CLASP rode what we call a ‘sounding rocket’. These are used to carry instruments between 50 and 1,500 kilometers above the Earth. Above weather balloons and on into the realm of satellites.
The maximum height for the balloons is about 40 kilometers, and the minimum for satellites is about 120 kilometers. So CLASP was definitely in space with its 268 km altitude, but it wasn’t in orbit.
To do that, it would’ve had to be traveling sideways at 17,500 miles an hour. This takes a much bigger rocket and a much bigger budget to match!
Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Astrosphere New Media. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. This year we will celebrate more discoveries and stories from the universe. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!