NASA Has Fired Up a New Tool For Staring Directly at the Sun

Friday, 16 March 2018 - 1:03PM
Astronomy
Sun
Space
Friday, 16 March 2018 - 1:03PM
NASA Has Fired Up a New Tool For Staring Directly at the Sun
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Fact: staring directly at the sun is a bad idea. The bright light from our planet's star can cause genuine retinal damage to anyone foolhardy enough to ignore common sense. (Also fact: that won't stop presidents from sneaking a peek during the solar eclipse.)



The sun's bright glow can be problematic for scientists wanting to study its environment and the way it gives off energy. In an attempt to learn more about the sun, NASA has created a tool that, when pointed at everyone's favorite fireball in the sky, should provide us with some interesting answers to complex questions about how stars work.

The Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) blasted off from Cape Canaveral aboard SpaceX's Falcon9 rocket in December. It has since been properly installed on the International Space Station (ISS) and is sending images back to Earth which will not only teach us about the sun but also about how the sun's rays affect our planet.

According to Dong Wu, one of the scientists involved with TSIS-1: 

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"TSIS-1 extends a long data record that helps us understand the Sun's influence on Earth's radiation budget, ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, and ecosystems, and the effects that solar variability has on the Earth system and climate change."
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TSIS-1 has two key sensors. The first, the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM), monitors the amount of energy flowing out of the sun. It is designed to help us better understand Earth's climate as we learn about what solar energy does to our planet's environment. Computer models have long been used to help give scientists an idea of how the sun's rays affect our world, but now we can watch it happen in real time.



The second sensor is the Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM). This sensor measures the sun's rays that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye. Much of the sun's rays fall on frequencies of the light spectrum that we can't see, such as infrared or ultraviolet light. Watching the light that the sun emits in these colors will help us to understand not only how the sun's solar output works, but also how these different types of light then disperse and interact with our own planet's atmosphere.

The TIM has been operational aboard the ISS since January, but the SIM has only just undergone what's called "first light" which is, quite literally, the first time the sensor is switched on and recording light signals.

Even though the challenge of getting TSIS-1 up and running is solved, there's still a lot of work to be done. It's one thing to get the machine to work, but, according to lead scientist Peter Pilewskie, "a lot of hard work remains for the team to interpret and validate the TSIS-1 data."

It'll be interesting to see what the team learn over the years as they study signals coming from TSIS-1. There's a lot to be discovered so, hopefully, this data will help expand our understanding of the brightest light in our sky.
Science
NASA
Astronomy
Sun
Space