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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Probe to study mighty explosions
By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Norwich

Solar B (Jaxa)
As is customary, the Japanese probe will get a new name in orbit
Scientists have been giving details of a new mission to explore the Sun.

Solar-B is a Japanese spacecraft which will have three telescopes to study solar flares, the huge bursts of energy which explode in the Sun's atmosphere.

Flares can hurl particles and radiation at the Earth, disrupting communications and posing a hazard to astronauts.

The probe, which should launch in two weeks' time, has US and UK support, with Britain providing an instrument to investigate extreme ultraviolet light.

Whilst scientists understand the flaring process very well, they cannot predict when one of these enormous explosions will occur.

The Solar-B mission will try to gain new insights into the flares' so called "trigger phase".

"Solar flares are fast and furious - they can cause communication black-outs at Earth within 30 minutes of a flare erupting on the Sun's surface," explained Professor Louise Harra, the UK Solar-B project scientist based at University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

"It's imperative that we understand what triggers these events with the ultimate aim of being able to predict them with greater accuracy."

And she told the BBC: "There is a big push to go back to the Moon and on to Mars, especially in the US. Even back in the Apollo days, they were very reliant on predictions that were as accurate as possible, because a huge flare would cause serious trouble for the astronaut, if not death."

Professor Harra was giving details of the mission to the British Association's Science Festival.

The spacecraft is scheduled for a 22 September, 2200 GMT launch from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) Uchinoura Space Centre at Uchinoura Kagoshima in southern Japan.

Spacecraft chases solar flares
06 Feb 02 |  Science/Nature
Solar flare confirmed as biggest
07 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature


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