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article imageSolar Orbiter's first views of the sun exceed expectations

By Karen Graham     Jul 16, 2020 in Science
ESA's Solar Orbiter, launched on February 10, 2020, performed its first close approach to the Sun in mid-June, capturing unique views of our nearest star. No other images of the Sun have been taken from such a close distance.
The orbiter was about 48 million miles (77 million kilometers) from the sun — about halfway between Earth and the sun — when it took the stunning high-resolution pictures last month. “We didn’t expect such great results so early,” said Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter project scientist. “These images show that Solar Orbiter is off to an excellent start.”
“These unprecedented pictures of the Sun are the closest we have ever obtained,” said Holly Gilbert, NASA project scientist for the mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These amazing images will help scientists piece together the Sun’s atmospheric layers, which is important for understanding how it drives space weather near the Earth and throughout the solar system.”
Solar Orbiter spots ‘campfires’ on the Sun. Locations of campfires are annotated with white arro...
Solar Orbiter spots ‘campfires’ on the Sun. Locations of campfires are annotated with white arrows.
Solar Orbiter/EUI Team (ESA & NASA); CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL
On the Solar Orbiter's first close solar pass on June 15. ann 10 instruments aboard flicked on, capturing the closest images of the sun to date. In 2018, the Parker Solar Probe captured what was then the closest imagers of the sun ever, while a previous record for closest solar approach was set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976, according to NASA.
Previous probes to the sun didn't have Sun-facing imagers, whereas the Solar Probe carries six imaging instruments, each of which studies a different aspect of the Sun.
The first images revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed ‘campfires’, near the surface of our closest star. The campfires were captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) from Solar Orbiter’s first perihelion, the point in its elliptical orbit closest to the Sun. At that time, the spacecraft was only 77 million km away from the Sun, about half the distance between Earth and the star.
The red and yellow images were taken with the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) in the extreme ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum, at wavelengths of 30 and 17 nanometers,
The many faces of the Sun from Solar Orbiter’s EUI and PHI instruments
The many faces of the Sun from Solar Orbiter’s EUI and PHI instruments
ESA
The Metis coronagraph on ESA’s Solar Orbiter scored a couple of ‘world firsts’ with its first light image. Metis is a coronagraph, which blocks out the dazzling light from the solar surface, allowing the fainter outer atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, to be seen. Its first light images, taken on 15 May 2020, and displayed here in the left hand column, are the first simultaneous images of the corona taken in both visible light (580-640 nm) and ultraviolet light (UV, 121.6 nm).
Solar Orbiter’s first view of the Sun’s corona
Solar Orbiter’s first view of the Sun’s corona
Solar Orbiter/Metis Team/ ESA & NASA
ESA’s Solar Orbiter carries a suite of ten instruments that work together to provide a coherent picture of solar activity and how that propagates into the wider Solar System, including particles that flow out into the Solar System as the solar wind.
The remote-sensing instruments look directly at the Sun, or slightly to one side to see the Sun’s surface and its outer atmosphere, the corona, while the in situ instruments measure the solar wind as it flows around the spacecraft.
Solar Orbiter first images and measurements
Solar Orbiter first images and measurements
Solar Orbiter (ESA & NASA)
More about solar orbiter, ESANASA, Sun, atmospheric layers, Corona
 
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