On its first major approach to the Sun, the Solar Orbiter has given us a collection of amazing images and videos. From powerful eruptions emerging from its hot atmosphere to a curious solar “hedgehog”. And this is just the beginning, as the ESA and NASA-led mission is taking its first steps.
According to explains the European Space Agencythe scientific satellite, which was launched into space on February 10, 2020, reached the perihelion of the star of our solar system on March 26th and for several days he captured part of the images that were recently published. The delay was due to the fact that the sending and processing of the data has taken weeks.
Visiting the perihelion
Being located 48 million kilometers from the Sun has advantages, such as obtaining the gallery of images that we see todaybut also its risks. The Solar Orbiter, which was within the orbit of Mercury, had to withstand high temperatures (its thermal shield reached 500 degrees centigrade) and cope with solar flares.
Fortunately, the satellite was fully prepared for these challenges. It has a sophisticated titanium and carbon fiber thermal system, and ten science instruments (six remote sensing telescopes and four in situ instruments) designed to provide “unprecedented insight into how the Sun works.”
While the first group of instruments observes our satellite and its extended atmosphere (that is, the corona, which was “visited” by NASA’s Parker probe in December), the second measures the particles that circulate around the satellite. That is, the solar wind and its electric and magnetic fields.
Did we detect a solar “hedgehog”?
Some of the images shared by ESA they show us a solar “hedgehog”. This intriguing feature of our star has been so nicknamed because of its large number of spiky hot gas that stretch out in all directions. And it is not a subtle phenomenon: it extends 25,000 kilometers, which makes it about twice the diameter of the Earth.
We can also observe powerful eruptions taking place in the sun’s corona through the lower atmospheric layers, and privileged views of the solar poles. What follows is a great challenge for scientists. Beyond the beauty of these images, they must focus on understanding in detail what they are seeing.
This challenge responds to the main objective of Solar Orbiter, which is to explore the connection between the Sun and the heliosphere. To carry out this study, the satellite will approach our star every five months and will capture data with its instruments. However, analyzing the information obtained will not be an easy task.
During the brief approach on March 26, Solar Orbiter detected an enormous amount of solar activity. That translated into a huge amount of data that needs to be compared to past missions to identify if we’ve seen anything like it before. In any case, in a few months we will have more images to delight us.
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