The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday will launch a sounding rocket that can take up to 1,500 images of the sun in five minutes. The rocket, part of the Rapid Acquisition Imaging Spectrograph Experiment, is designed to scrutinise split-second changes occurring near the sun’s active regions. These are areas of complex magnetic activity that can give rise to solar flares, which eject energy and solar material out into space.

“Dynamic processes happen on all timescales,” said Don Hassler, principal investigator for the Raise mission at the Southwest Research Institute in the United States. “With Raise, we’ll read out an image every two-tenths of a second, so we can study very fast processes and changes on the sun. That’s five to 10 times faster than comparable instruments on other sounding rocket or satellite missions,” said Hassler.

The images will then be used to create a data product called a spectrogram, which separates light from the sun into all its different wavelength components. By looking at the intensity of light at each wavelength, scientists can assess how solar material and energy moves around the sun and how that movement evolves into massive solar eruptions.

A sounding rocket derives its name from “to sound”, a nautical term that means “to measure”. It is also called a research rocket as it is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The flight of a sounding rocket is short-lived and has a parabolic trajectory.

This will be the Raise mission’s third flight, and the scientists have continuously updated its technology. For the upcoming flight, they have refurbished the detectors and updated the flight software.