NASA’s Hi-C launches to study sun’s corona

The High Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C, launches aboard a Black Brant IX sounding rocket at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Credit: NASA

NASA and its partners launched a rocket-borne camera to the edge of space at 2:54 p.m. EST May 29, 2018, on its third flight to study the sun. The clarity of images returned is unprecedented and their analysis will provide scientists around the world with clues to one of the biggest questions in heliophysics – why the sun’s atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than its surface.

The precision instrument, called the High Resolution Coronal Imager or Hi-C for short, flew aboard a Black Brant IX sounding rocket at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“This was the third launch of Hi-C,” said Amy Winebarger, principal investigator for the Hi-C mission at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Our second launch in 2016 had an issue with the camera on-board the telescope of the instrument. So, while we gathered critical engineering data and some images, we did not get the high-quality images of the corona we were expecting. We improved the camera from the last launch and are already getting exciting data from Tuesday’s experiment that could help explain the long-held questions about the sun’s atmosphere.”

The telescope on Hi-C, the centerpiece of the payload weighing 464 pounds and measuring 10-feet long, is designed to observe a large, active region in the sun’s corona in fine detail. The duration of the space portion of the Hi-C mission provided five minutes of observation time with the telescope acquiring an image about every five seconds.

Scientists anticipate that analysis of the imaging data from Hi-C’s third flight will help resolve current questions about connections between the hot and cool regions of the solar atmosphere. To meet this goal, Hi-C’s launch and data collection was coordinated with the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph or IRIS for short, a NASA small explorer satellite observatory that captures images and spectra of the cooler portions of the sun’s atmosphere.

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