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Thursday, April 2, 1998 Published at 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK


Close-up of Sun's surface
image: [ The Sun's violent surface ]
The Sun's violent surface

A new satellite has been launched to study the Sun's hot and violent surface. Called the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer or Trace, it will join a fleet of spacecraft studying the Sun. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports:

[ image: Pegasus in flight]
Pegasus in flight
Blasted into space on a small rocket called Pegasus launched from under the wing of an aircraft, the Trace satellite will spend a year studying the Sun during a critical period.

The Sun's surface is a maelstrom of activity. Hot gas rises and falls in giant convection cells and strong magnetic fields, rising from beneath its visible surface, heating gas to millions of degrees.

Solar surface activity follows an 11 year 'sunspot cycle' and Trace will study the Sun as it begins an increase in surface activity culminating in so-called solar maximum in a few years time.

[ image: TRACE]
Trace's instruments will help astronomers understand the storms and intense flares that occur on the Sun's surface.

It consists of four telescopes and will be positioned in an orbit allowing an uninterrupted view of the Sun for months at a time.

Occasionally a solar flare erupts ejecting gas and atomic particles into space. If they reach the Earth then they can have a severe effect on satellites and communications.

The data from Trace will be posted on the Internet for all to see.

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