solar-orbiterthe European Space Agency (ESA) mission that launched in 2020 and which includes the closest camera to the sun, has made a second close approach to our star and has captured impressive images of the solar corona.
The spacecraft made its closest approach on October 12 at 9:12 p.m. EST, when it came within less than a third of the distance between Earth and the sun. Using his Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument, he captured this video of the crown on October 13.
The corona is the outermost layer of the sun’s atmosphere, and it extends for millions of miles from the sun’s surface. It is also hotter than the surface of the sun, reaching temperatures of more than a million degrees Celsius.
At the time the corona was imaged, it was described as “quiet,” meaning no flares or coronal mass ejections were produced. Still, the corona is active and changes as the extremely hot plasma moves due to changes in the sun’s magnetic field. This relative calm will be less common in the coming months and years, as the sun’s activity is currently increasing and is expected to peak in 2025 when it reaches a point called solar maximum. This is the most active point in the 11-year cycle of solar activity.
Images captured by the EUI instrument cover 65 miles per pixel, so the total image represents an area equivalent to 17 Earths stacked side by side. Solar Orbiter is also armed with a variety of other instruments for both remote sensing and in-situ measurements that record data such as magnetic fields, radio and plasma waves, and various types of images.
More flyby data will arrive in the coming weeks as the spacecraft travels in the direction of Earth and thus can download more data. “I’m really looking forward to the data from all 10 instruments being downloaded over the next few weeks, and then the global scientific community will be very busy discovering new things using this unique dataset,” said Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter project scientist at the THAT, in a release.