The Sun as never seen before; present images of the space probe approaches the star

Sun Images Solar Orbiter Esa
ESA presented stunning images of the Sun taken by Solar Orbiter. Photo: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) presented impressive images of the Sun where powerful eruptions can be seen, impressive views of the solar poles and a curious “solar hedgehog” that they have been able to capture thanks to the Solar Orbiter, the probe that is getting closer to the star.

ESA reported that analysis of the new dataset has only just begun, but it is clear that the mission is providing the most extraordinary insights into the magnetic behavior of the Sun and how it shapes space weather.

Solar Orbiter’s closest approach to the Sun, known as perihelion, occurred on March 26. The spacecraft was within Mercury’s orbit, about a third of the distance between the Sun and Earth, and its heat shield reached 500 degrees centigrade.

The Solar Orbiter carries ten scientific instruments (nine are led by ESA Member States and one by NASA), all working together to provide never-before-seen insight into how the star works.

Solar flares captured by the probe

The probe caught various solar flares and even a coronal ejection of mass directed at Earth, providing an opportunity to make real-time space weather predictions, an increasingly important task due to the threat that solar storms pose to technology and astronauts.

“The images are really impressive,” says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium and principal investigator of the instrument that takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the solar corona.

A strange solar “hedgehog”

A particularly striking feature was seen during this perihelion. For now, he has been nicknamed “the hedgehog”. It stretches 25,000 kilometers around the Sun and has a multitude of hot and cold gas peaks extending in all directions.

“Sun hedgehog”. Photo: ESA

The Solar Orbiter’s main goal is to explore the connection between the Sun and the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the great bubble of space that extends beyond the planets of our Solar System. It is full of electrically charged particles, most of which have been expelled by the Sun to form the solar wind. It is the movement of these particles and the associated solar magnetic fields that create space weather.

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