The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter has successfully captured the closest images ever taken of the Sun, providing scientists with unprecedented insights into our star. Launched in February 2020, the Solar Orbiter is a groundbreaking spacecraft designed to study the Sun’s atmosphere up close and revolutionize our understanding of solar activity.
The Solar Orbiter’s mission aims to uncover the mysteries surrounding the Sun’s dynamic behavior, such as the nature of solar winds and eruptions that can have a profound impact on Earth’s space environment. To achieve this, the spacecraft had to fly within proximity of the Sun, getting as close as 77 million kilometers (48 million miles), which is approximately half the distance between the Sun and Earth.
On June 15, 2020, the Solar Orbiter successfully completed its first close pass by the Sun, reaching a distance of 77 million kilometers. Along with custom-built instruments, the spacecraft’s ten powerful remote-sensing instruments captured remarkable images showcasing the star’s surface and atmosphere in exquisite detail. The newly released images are already proving to be a treasure trove for solar scientists worldwide.
One of the Solar Orbiter’s instruments responsible for capturing these close-up images is the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI). This instrument specializes in observing the Sun’s corona, the outermost and hottest layer of the solar atmosphere. The EUI successfully photographed solar structures as small as 400 kilometers (250 miles) across, providing scientists with an unprecedented level of resolution.
The Solar Orbiter’s Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI) – another instrumental star – focuses on identifying and studying the Sun’s magnetic activity. By analyzing the Sun’s magnetic fields, scientists hope to gain a deeper understanding of the processes that drive solar flares, CMEs (coronal mass ejections), and other energetic events. By shedding light on these mechanisms, researchers can work towards improving space weather predictions and safeguarding our satellites and power grids.
In addition to these groundbreaking images, the Solar Orbiter has also been able to measure solar wind particles closer to their point of origin than any previous mission. These valuable measurements will help scientists better comprehend the Sun’s outer layers, the solar wind’s origins, and its subsequent behavior as it reaches Earth.
The Solar Orbiter is a result of international collaboration, with scientists and engineers from across Europe and the United States working together to construct and operate this intricate spacecraft. The mission builds upon previous achievements in solar exploration, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Parker Solar Probe, to unlock further secrets of the Sun.
ESA’s Solar Orbiter has already proven to be an exceptional platform for solar research. With its close encounters and unmatched imaging capabilities, the spacecraft is set to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun’s behavior and its potential impacts on our planet. The valuable data captured by the Solar Orbiter will enable scientists to enhance space weather forecasting and improve our ability to protect vital infrastructure on Earth, making it a truly innovative and revolutionary mission.