Astronomy: X-Raying the Sun

At solar observatories scattered throughout the U.S., astronomers reached for their telephones one day last June and called the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Each observer had spotted the beginnings of a solar flare, an extremely hot outburst of high-energy particles on the surface of the sun that often precedes magnetic storms in the earth's ionosphere. Within minutes, an Aerobee rocket soared from its launch pad, carrying with it the largest X-ray telescope ever sent into space.

As the Aerobee arced above the atmosphere, which screens X rays from the earth, a camera focused on the image of the...

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