Three of the finest NASA scientists have teamed up to develop and demonstrate NASA’s first wide field soft X-ray camera in a bid to study the phenomenon called charge exchange – a poorly understood phenomenon that occurs when the solar wind collides with Earth’s exosphere and neutral gas in interplanetary space.
Abbreviated as STORM, this instrument potentially holds the answer for obtaining a more complete understanding of the physical process, giving scientists insights currently impossible with existing instruments.
The unique collaboration involves heliophysics, astrophysics and planetary science divisions at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. This group work has resulted in the first successful demonstration of the Sheath Transport Observer for the Redistribution of Mass (STORM) instrument and a never-before-flown X-ray focusing technology called lobster-eye optics.
As the name implies, the optics mimic the structure of a lobster’s eyes, which are made up of long, narrow cells that each captures a tiny amount of light, but from many different angles. Only then is the light focused on a single image.
Scientists discovered that the X-ray emission was caused by the solar wind, a constantly flowing stream of charged particles that sweeps across the solar system at about a million miles per hour.
When highly charged heavy ions in the solar wind collide with neutral atoms found in space, the heavy ions ‘steal’ an electron from the neutrals, an exchange that puts the heavy ions in a short-lived excited state.
As they relax, they emit soft X-rays. These rays are what they intend to crack and hopefully then we will get a better idea of the universe that we live in.