The Union Recorder

January 29, 2013

OUR SPACE: Hi sun, how are you?

Beate Czogalla
The Union-Recorder


What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Hi-C?

Probably vitamins. 

But there is in fact another Hi-C out there that you have never heard about, and so our mission today — should we choose to accept it (and we will, right?!) — is to take a closer look at The Other Hi-C.

Hi-C is another one of those infamous NASA abbreviations — this one possibly a little more obscure than most since it doesn't actually spell something cute, too. It stands for Hi Resolution Coronal Imager, and it's a telescope that looks at the sun.

Granted, there are a number of spacecraft out there whose sole purpose in life it is to observe the sun. Hi-C is different, though. It's a space telescope, of sorts, but it lives on planet Earth. Sounding rockets are used to shoot it high up to the edge of space, and then it has a few minutes to do its duty, and then it comes back home just like Lassie. Dangling off a parachute system the long skinny device floats back to Terra Firma and lands in the desert where eager scientists and engineers pick it up and geek out over all the cool stuff they've discovered.

Hi-C has something that none of the other sun observatories has: a precise filter that eliminates all but the shortest wavelengths of light coming from the sun, at about 94 Angstrom. Such a tiny unit of measurement is hard to fathom, so just to put it into perspective: the human eye can process wavelengths between 4,000 and 7,000 Angstrom. That's what we call visible light. Wavelengths shorter than 4,000 Angstrom are in the ultraviolet spectrum and beyond, and wavelengths longer than 7,000 Angstrom are in the infrared and below.

If you look at the sun (and remember, never do that without proper eye protection!) you might think, well, it's just a big hot ball. In reality, our sun is an incredibly dynamic big hot ball, with areas that are cooler and other that are hotter than the average surface area.

The hot cloud surrounding the sun, the corona — visible in its full splendor during a solar eclipse — is actually a whole lot hotter than the surface of the sun. Hotter means shorter wavelengths, and most telescopes simply aren't sensitive enough in that part of the spectrum.

Hi-C was developed specifically to look at those super-hot areas of the sun, and in its short 10-minute flight it took a picture every five seconds. And for sun enthusiasts, this means seeing the sun like we've never been able to see it before: a whole new portrait of our local star!

Learn more about the brief but intense adventure of Hi-C at

Brush up on your knowledge about the debonair planet hunter at

Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at