Past soft X-ray spectrometer missions have only observed the Sun’s corona over a fairly large field of view, or with limited energy diagnostic capabilities. MaGIXS, by comparison, will be the first imager to measure specific temperature distributions at different parts of an active solar region. That precision data will help scientists resolve the debate concerning how – and how often – the corona is superheated.
Shedding new light on coronal heating mechanisms could help researchers better understand and even predict potential solar flares and coronal mass ejections, both of which occur most often in connection with regional spikes in coronal heating. These violent outbursts can interfere with communications satellites and electronic systems, even causing physical drag on satellites as Earth’s atmosphere expands to absorb the added solar energy.
Indeed, the MaGIXS sounding rocket mission also serves as a testbed for instrumentation for future NASA missions to study solar flares in greater detail, possibly tying their origins to measurable coronal activity and helping demonstrate how advanced flight hardware and space systems can be hardened to weather high-energy tantrums from Earth’s star.
NASA routinely uses sounding rockets for such brief, focused science missions. They’re often smaller, more affordable, and faster to design and build than large-scale satellite missions, Winebarger said.
“They offer unique, suborbital science opportunities, a chance to develop innovative new instrumentation, and rapid return on investment,” she added.
The NASA team expects to retrieve the flight payload immediately after the flight and has begun processing datasets. They hope to issue their findings in coming months.
The MaGIXS mission was developed at Marshall in partnership with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Marshall engineers developed and fabricated the telescope and spectrometer mirrors, and the camera. The integrated instrument was exhaustively tested in Marshall’s state-of-the-art X-ray and Cryogenic Facility. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge provided the spectrometer’s integrated diffraction grating. The University of Central Lancashire provided software to analyze the slitjaw images, which enable the science team to determine where the payload is pointing in real time during flight.