The bread loaf-sized Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer, or MinXSS, CubeSat dropped from an airlock on the International Space Station on Monday to keep an eye on “soft X-rays” emitted by the Sun.
Soft X-rays may sound harmless but they can wreak havoc with communication systems on Earth. As the X-ray waves travel through our upper atmosphere, they can disrupt radio and GPS signals transmitted through those regions.
Soft X-rays tend to peak during solar flares when large eruptions on the Sun’s surface can send blasts of radiation our way. They also carry information about the temperature, density and chemistry of material in the Sun’s atmosphere.
The mission, funded by NASA, will run up to 12 months. MinXSS uses a commercially purchased X-ray spectrometer for a detector and an extendable tape measure as a radio antenna.