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NASA’s Loaf-Sized CubeSat Collects New Info on Solar Flares

Oct 12, 2016 04:15 AM EDT
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NASA's MinXSS CubeSat (Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer) has provided new data on the study of solar flares.

On June 9, the bread loaf-sized CubeSat began science operations and collected data on soft X-rays from a low-intensity solar flare captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). A video released by NASA shows the SDO imagery captured on July 21 and the soft X-rays observed in near-Earth space by MinXSS.

According to a NASA statement, MinXSS has observed an increase in energy and brightness during the solar flare, which could be seen in SDO images when a loop of solar material comes out from an active region on the sun and shines brightly.

These flare data could be used by scientists to trace the temperature, density and abundance of solar flare material during an eruption, which are critical factors in determining how flares evolve and heat the sun's atmosphere.

Solar flares or solar eruptions impact the Earth's upper atmosphere or ionosphere as X-rays coming from the sun disrupt near-Earth space, interfering with GPS, radio and other communication signals.

"This video shows how dynamic the solar atmosphere can become, and highlights that MinXSS has great sensitivity to observe even the weak flares," NASA said. "These observations exemplify the goals of the six-month mission, which began after the spacecraft was deployed from the International Space Station in May 2016 and has already met its criteria for comprehensive success."

MinXXS is funded by NASA and managed by the University of Colorado, Boulder, with the scientific goal of understanding the physics behind solar flares. It uses a detector made of commercially purchased X-ray spectrometer and a radio antenna made of an extendable tape measure. The MinXXS CubeSat launched on Dec. 6, 2015 atop Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft.

CubeSats are low-cost tools for space missions designed to take targeted scientific observations, built with few instruments made of off-the-shelf components.

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