Taking a Shot at the Sun

Marshall solar physicists and engineers have designed the Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation, or SUMI, to determine the strength and direction of magnetic fields in a region of the sun where the magnetic field has never been measured.

The transition region is a thin layer of the solar atmosphere tucked between the surface and its outermost level. Solar flares erupting here can blast their way toward Earth, shorting out ground circuits and generating radiation capable of killing a space explorer.

SUMI's instruments then analyze the light using a technique called the Zeeman Effect to determine the strength and direction of the magnetic field. The cameras must operate in cold temperatures while surrounded by liquid nitrogen.

SUMI will provide the measurements needed to generate a snapshot of the three dimensional structure of the solar magnetic field. There's a lot more work to be done, Cirtain said, but SUMI will demonstrate that the technology is ready to be put on a spacecraft and flown for a long term study of the solar magnetic field in the transition region.