Toward the Direct Measurement of Coronal Magnetic Fields: An Airborne Infrared Spectrometer for Eclipse Observations
Abstract:The solar magnetic field enables the heating of the corona and provides its underlying structure. Energy stored in coronal magnetic fields is released in flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) and provides the ultimate source of energy for space weather. Therefore, direct measurements of the coronal magnetic field have significant potential to enhance understanding of coronal dynamics and improve solar forecasting models. Of particular interest are observations of coronal field lines in the transitional region between closed and open flux systems, providing important information on the origin of the slow solar wind.
While current instruments routinely observe only the photospheric and chromospheric magnetic fields, a proposed airborne spectrometer will take a step toward the direct observation of coronal fields by measuring plasma emission in the infrared at high spatial and spectral resolution. The targeted lines are four forbidden magnetic dipole transitions between 2 and 4 μm. The airborne system will consist of a telescope, grating spectrometer, and pointing/stabilization system to be flown on the NSF/NCAR High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER) during the August 2017 total solar eclipse.
The project incorporates several optical engineering challenges, centered around maintaining adequate spectral and spatial resolution in a compact and inexpensive package and on a moving platform. Design studies are currently underway to examine the tradeoffs between various optical geometries and control strategies for the pointing/stabilization system. The results will be presented and interpreted in terms of the consequences for the scientific questions. In addition, results from a laboratory prototype and simulations of the final system will be presented.