The NASA-ESA-operated Solar Orbiter has managed to capture the closest picture of the sun ever – could help solve solar flares, including CME mysteries.
Jointly operated by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Solar Orbiter has made history. The spacecraft has captured the closest photo ever of the sun. The image shows the star in its fiery glory, revealing details never seen before. The extremely high-quality image was taken by the orbiter after it zoomed in on the sun on March 7, when the spacecraft crossed directly between Earth and the sun. The photos are also special because they were not only taken at very close range, but also emphasize the caliber of the imaging instruments on the spacecraft that can withstand and process such bright light while still producing stable images. The photps will also help solve some mysteries, as well as solar flares or coronal mass ejection (CME).
The ESA announced this achievement on March 24, highlighting the “unprecedented” image captured by the Solar Orbiter. It was explained that two pictures had been taken. The first was captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI), “the highest resolution image of the entire disk of the sun and outer atmosphere, the corona, ever taken”. The second was captured by the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument and shows “the first full sun image of its kind in 50 years, and by far the best taken with the Lyman beta wavelength of ultraviolet light is emitted by hydrogen gas”.
NASA and ESA Managed Solar Orbiter Makes a Historic First
It was not an easy task to capture these images, as both the radiation and heat from the sun make it challenging to capture clear images. The NASA-ESA-operated Solar Orbiter was about 75 million kilometers away when it took these images. At that distance, it was about halfway between the sun and our planet. The final image contains over 83 million pixels in a grid of 9148 x 9112 pixels. By comparison, it’s ten times the resolution a 4K TV can display.
“EUI’s high-resolution telescope captures images with such high spatial resolution that a mosaic of 25 individual images is needed at that close range to cover the entire sun. Taken one after the other, the entire image was captured over a period of more than four hours, as each tile lasts approximately 10 minutes, including the time it takes for the spacecraft to point from one segment to the next,” said ESA in its announcement.
What do these images reveal about the sun?
Scientists have been baffled about the behavior of the sun for years. One of the most characteristic yet unique features of our home star is that the sun’s temperature fluctuates as you rise above the surface. “Usually the temperature drops when you move away from a hot object. But above the sun, the corona reaches a million degrees Celsius, while the surface is only about 5000°C. Exploring this mystery is one of the main scientific goals of the Solar Orbiter,” said ESA.
These images show how the Solar Orbiter can observe the sun in a better way. The spacecraft can watch the star as solar flares or coronal mass ejection (CME) discharge to closely monitor its behavior and understand how the temperature starts at a lower point and then rises.