UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Celebrating 150 years of Japan-UCL links

3 July 2013

The Japanese Hinode spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

In 1863, the first Japanese students to leave their country and study at a Western university came to UCL. At the time, Japan was a closed society with few links to the outside world, and it was still illegal for Japanese people to leave their country.Known as the Choshu Five, these students played a huge role in opening up Japan to the world after their return, and played important roles in Japanese history. Among their number were a future prime minister, the man who would found the Japanese railways, and one of the founders of the University of Toyko.

2013 marks a series of celebrations of the Choshu Five by UCL and the Japanese Embassy in the UK, including a ceremony being held at UCL today (3 July).

Today, UCL continues to have close links with Japan, most notably through collaborations between UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the Japanese space agency, JAXA.

The Japanese Hinode spacecraft observes the Sun
Credit: NASA

The Hinode spacecraft (Japanese for 'sunrise') was launched in September 2006, and is a joint collaboration between Japan, the US and UK, with UCL a key component of the UK contribution.

The purpose of the space mission is to understand the triggers and source of solar activity. The collaboration between solar physicists in the UK and Japan predates Hinode, and developed into joint space instrumentation in the 1980s with an instrument built for the japanese Yohkoh ('sunbeam') mission. This was the first time there was international collaboration on a japanese solar mission.

Yohkoh was extremely successful and along with Hinode has led to a strong bond  between solar physicists in the UK and Japan. Planning is now underway for a future solar mission, currently named Solar-C, to be launched around 2018. 

The Hinode spacecraft includes three instruments on board. One observes the Sun in extremely high resolution, another, known as the extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer (or EIS) acts as a speed camera on the Sun by measuring spectroscopically the properties of the plasma and the third measures high temperature plasma. The development of the EIS instrument was led by UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and Louise Harra (professor of solar physics at UCL) is the scientific lead for the instrument.

The science return from the Hinode spacecraft data has been extremely successful - probing questions such as what causes solar flare to trigger? What creates magnetic field on the Sun? What is the source of the solar wind that flows past the Earth and through the solar system?


Hinode is a Japanese mission developed and launched by ISAS/JAXA, collaborating with NAOJ as a domestic partner, NASA and STFC (UK) as international partners. Scientific operation of the Hinode mission is conducted by the Hinode science team organized at ISAS/JAXA. This team mainly consists of scientists from institutes in the partner countries. Support for the post-launch operation is provided by JAXA and NAOJ (Japan), STFC (U.K.), NASA, ESA, and NSC (Norway).

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Oli Usher
UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
020 7679 7964