X-ray scan maps Sun’s corona in 3D

Scientists have used a medical X-ray technique on their biggest ever “patient” – the Sun. They used the same method used for CAT scans to produce the first detailed map of the structure in its outer atmosphere.

A Soho image of the Sun's coronaThis region, called the corona, is the ghostly glow that can be seen around the Sun during a total eclipse.

It produces a force called the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles that blow out through the solar system.

The medical technique, called tomography, takes images from many different angles to build up a 3D map of a patient’s body for doctors.

Dr Huw Morgan, of the University of Aberystwyth, used it instead on images recorded with a satellite called Soho that constantly monitors the Sun.

He will present his results today at a gathering of space scientists, the National Astronomy Meeting, in Belfast, organised by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Dr Morgan, who worked with colleagues at the University of Hawaii, said: “This is a breakthrough for scientists trying to understand the corona and the solar wind.

“We’ve been attempting to apply tomography to the solar corona for more than 30 years but it’s proved very difficult and very inaccurate until now. The new technique that I’ve developed is only in its infancy but shows great potential for areas of research like space weather.”

Space weather includes dramatic explosions on the Sun that can send material hurtling towards Earth, threatening communication satellites, power grids, and even the lives of astronauts. Mapping the corona is seen as a major step towards understanding and predicting these storms.

Other new Sun-watching satellites include Hinode and Stereo which are bringing us remarkable new images of our home star.

Picture: A Soho satellite image of the Sun’s corona. (ESA/Nasa)