Image sensors reveal sun’s secrets

A section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right

A section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region. - Credit: Archant

Image sensors designed and made by a hi-tech Chelmsford firm have captured the first images of a mystery region of the sun.

The e2v sensors, on board the newest US space agency NASA solar observatory, have captured their first images of the sun on board NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft, which was designed and built by Lockheed Martin.

IRIS is a NASA explorer mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun’s lower atmosphere.

e2v vice president Peter Fochi said: “We very much look forward to seeing the high resolution images from the IRIS mission.”

The region being explored is important because it forms the ultraviolet emission that affects near-Earth space and Earth’s climate.

Energy travelling through the region also helps drive the solar wind, which, during extreme space weather events near Earth, can affect satellites, power grids and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

e2v supplied four identical Charged Coupled Device (CCD) image sensors for the mission, three in the main spectrograph and a single detector in the ultra violet slit jaw imager, to monitor the overall light level and provide context for the main spectrograph data. The image sensors are 1024 by 2048 pixels with 13 µm pixels. The detectors are custom versions of commercially available sensors produced using enhanced processes and thin-gate technologies.

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Mr Fochi said: “We are very pleased to be continuing our successful relationship with Lockheed by supplying high performance image sensors for the IRIS programme. e2v has provided image sensors to Lockheed for solar missions including SDO and SUVI.”