The sun … one of the gods of the first men. They looked up and their flash of light made them dream. Then thanks to the space age, we could see it more and more. But now we have photos taken closer to the sun than ever before. And the result is great.
They were captured by the Solar Orbiter (SolO) probe from the European Space Agency (ESA). They only needed 77 million kilometers from the surface of our star. It is the camera that was closest to the star.
Among the amazing things the probe has revealed are certain small “campfires”. Miniature versions of solar storms. You could explain why the star’s outer atmosphere (corona) is so much hotter than its surface.
“The sun has a relatively cold surface of around 5,500 ° C. It is surrounded by a super-hot atmosphere of over a million degrees,” said ESA project scientist Daniel Daniel Müller.
The “campfires” are small, which may explain why they were not discovered. David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium explains it. The smallest are a few of our pixels. One pixel corresponds to 400 km, i.e. the spatial resolution. So they’re about the size of some European countries. “
The ESA satellite was launched in February with a missile from Cape Canaveral in the United States. Your mission is to reveal the secrets of our star’s dynamic behavior.
What the probe does
The probe will be less than 43 million km from the sun. This will bring SolO into orbit on the planet Mercury. The images displayed on Thursday are from the latest pass nearby, known as Perihel. This happened in mid-June in Venus’ orbit. For comparison: the earth is an average of 149 million kilometers from the sun.
It’s the photos that were taken closer to the sun than ever before, but not the highest resolution. The largest solar telescopes on earth will always beat SolO to this extent. However, using six remote sensing instruments and four on-site instruments takes you to another level.
Solar Orbiter doesn’t get any closer to the sun just to get higher resolution images. It is approaching another and less turbulent part of the solar wind, “said Mark McCaughrean, ESA chief advisor for science and exploration.
“It captures distant data on and around the sun for its context. No other mission or telescope can do that, “he added. It will be a few years before Solar Orbiter makes its first very close encounters with the Sun (48 million km away).