CASPER: A mission to study the time-dependent evolution of the magnetic solar chromosphere and transition regions

Orozco Suárez, D.; del Toro Iniesta, J. C.; Bailén, F. J.; López Jiménez, A.; Balaguez Jiménez, M.; Bellot Rubio, L. R.; Ishikawa, R.; Katsukawa, Y.; Kano, R.; Shimizu, T.; Trujillo Bueno, J.; Asensio Ramos, A.; del Pino Alemán, T.
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Experimental Astronomy

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Our knowledge about the solar chromosphere and transition region (TR) has increased in the last decade thanks to the huge scientific return of space-borne observatories like SDO, IRIS, and Hinode, and suborbital rocket experiments like CLASP1, CLASP2, and Hi-C. However, the magnetic nature of those solar regions remain barely explored. The chromosphere and TR of the Sun harbor weak fields and are in a low ionization stage both having critical effects on their thermodynamic behavior. Relatively cold gas structures, such as spicules and prominences, are located in these two regions and display a dynamic evolution in high-resolution observations that static and instantaneous 3D-magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models are not able to reproduce. The role of the chromosphere and TR as the necessary path to a (largely unexplained) very hot corona calls for the generation of observationally based, time-dependent models of these two layers that include essential, up to now disregarded, ingredients in the modeling such as the vector magnetic field. We believe that the community is convinced that the origin of both the heat and kinetic energy observed in the upper layers of the solar atmosphere is of magnetic origin, but reliable magnetic field measurements are missing. The access to sensitive polarimetric measurements in the ultraviolet wavelengths has been elusive until recently due to limitations in the available technology. We propose a low-risk and high-Technology Readiness Level (TRL) mission to explore the magnetism and dynamics of the solar chromosphere and TR. The mission baseline is a low-Earth, Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude between 600 and 800 km. The proposed scientific payload consists of a 30 cm aperture telescope with a spectropolarimeter covering the hydrogen Ly-alpha and the Mg II h&k ultraviolet lines. The instrument shall record high-cadence, full spectropolarimetric observations of the solar upper atmosphere. Besides the answers to a fundamental solar problem the mission has a broader scientific return. For example, the time-dependent modeling of the chromospheres of stars harboring exoplanets is fundamental for estimating the planetary radiation environment. The mission is based on technologies that are mature enough for space and will provide scientific measurements that are not available by other means.