Sunrise Science Flight

2009
Sunrise Gondola at launch, 2009

Sunrise is a unique research project designed to capture features on the solar surface as small as 30 kilometers across (about 19 miles), more than double the resolution achieved by any other instrument to date. Carrying the largest solar telescope ever to have left Earth, Sunrise was launched on a gigantic helium balloon larger than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, from the ESRANGE Space Centre in Kiruna, northern Sweden on June 8, 2009. The total equipment weighed in at more than six tons and reached a cruising altitude of 37 kilometers (23 miles) above the Earth's surface. The observations (an example is show as an inset above) are helping unlock important mysteries about the structure of the Sun's magnetic field and how it creates solar activity that can cause electromagnetic storms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. It is also designed to study ultraviolet light from the Sun. Ultraviolet light has shorter wavelengths than our eyes can see. The amount of ultraviolet light produced by the Sun varies over the sunspot activity cycle which has implications for climate on Earth. Ultraviolet light does not reach the surface of the Earth but is absorbed in the ozone layer, where it deposits heat. Sunrise was carried high enough up to detect ultraviolet light carrying out the first ever study of small-scale bright magnetic structures on the solar surface in an important range of ultraviolet light. Sunrise is an international collaboration involving NCAR, NASA, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Lockheed Martin Corporation and the University of Chicago.