Recently, scientists revealed they had got the closest-ever shots taken of the Sun. This task was part of a pan-European project to examine solar winds and flares that could have far-reaching effects on our planet.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in February. It succeeded in completing its first flyby of our host star last month (June), offering never seen images of phenomena close to its surface. Here is what you need to know.
Solar Orbiter Helps Scientists Study the Sun
Scientists revealed that the first shots are truly exceeding their expectations. They now have some hints of very intriguing phenomena that they couldn’t observe in detail before.
“This makes us confident that Solar Orbiter will help us answer profound open questions about the Sun,” explained Daniel Muller, the Solar Orbitel project scientist.
The scientists have seen dozens of miniature solar flares, dubbed “campfires,” which had never been captured on film until now. According to David Berghmans, from Belgium’s Royal Observatory, the campfires are actually several million times smaller than solar flares, which can be spotted from Earth. Berghmans explained that our host star seemed calm at first, but small eruptions could be seen everywhere when looked in detail.
Solar winds and flares send billions of highly charged particles that affect planets, including ours. But the phenomena remain almost not at all understood despite so many years of research. The biggest solar storm recorded hit North America in 1959. Not only that it knocked out the region’s telegraph network, but it also bathed the skies in an aurora viewable as far away as the Caribbean.
During its first flight, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter traveled approximately 77 million kilometers from the surface, around half the length between the Sun and Earth. Equipped to resist temperatures as high as 500 degrees Celsius, it will be after some time as close as 40 million kilometers from the surface, shielding its instruments with a heat-resistant structure that will be displayed to sunlight 13 times higher than on Earth.
The Solar Orbiter is set to last up to nine years, and it cost $1.7 billion.