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The Solar Corona - Windows to the Universe

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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
Blending of an eclipse image (from the High Altitude Observatory) with a Yohkoh X-ray image (from the Yohkoh Science Team).
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Image courtesy of the High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder, Colorado,

The Solar Corona

Rising above the Sun's chromosphere , the temperature jumps sharply from a few tens of thousands of kelvins to as much as a few million kelvins in the Sun's outer atmosphere, the solar corona. Understanding the reason the Sun's corona is so hot is one of the many challenges facing solar physicists today. Because of the very high temperatures, the corona emits high energy radiation and can be observed in X-rays. The Earth's atmosphere absorbs X-rays, but satellites above the atmosphere, such as the Yohkoh spacecraft, can observe the Sun in these wavelengths. Shown on the left is a blending of a Yohkoh X-ray image (reddish colors) with an eclipse image taken by the High Altitude Observatory (gray-white colors) on November 3, 1994. Near the poles of the Sun, the corona is dark for both X-rays and white light. These regions are coronal holes and are the source of the solar wind that extends out into interplanetary space. The scattered white light shows the density of plasma in the corona. The large white regions extending out far from the Sun are helmet streamers, where the solar plasma has been trapped by the Sun's magnetic field.


Last modified May 10, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF