The NASA and ESA operated Solar Orbiter has managed to take the closest-ever photo of the Sun- may help solve solar flares, CME mysteries too.
The Solar Orbiter, which is jointly managed by both NASA and European Space Agency (ESA), has created history. The spacecraft has taken the closest-ever photo of the Sun. The image showcases the star in its fiery glory and exposes details that were never seen before. The extremely high quality image was taken by the orbiter after it zoomed in on the Sun on March 7, when the spacecraft was crossing directly between the Earth and Sun. The photos are also special because not only were they taken from an extremely close range, but also highlights the caliber of the imaging instruments on the spacecraft which can withstand and process such bright light and still bring out steady images. The photps will also help solve some myetries as well as solar flares or coronal mass ejection (CME).
The ESA announced this feat on March 24, highlighting the “unprecedented” image taken by the Solar Orbiter. It explained that there were two pictures taken. First was captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI), which is “the highest resolution image of the Sun’s full disc and outer atmosphere, the corona, ever taken”. The second was captured by the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument and it showcases “the first full Sun image of its kind in 50 years, and by far the best one, taken at the Lyman-beta wavelength of ultraviolet light that is emitted by hydrogen gas”.
NASA and ESA managed Solar Orbiter does a historic first
Capturing these images was no easy task as the Sun’s radiation and heat both make it a challenge to take images with clarity. The NASA and ESA operated Solar Orbiter was around 75 million kilometers away, when it took these images. At that distance, it was roughly halfway between the Sun and our planet. The final image contains more than 83 million pixels in a 9148 x 9112 pixel grid. For comparison, it is ten times the resolution a 4K TV can display.
“The high-resolution telescope of EUI takes pictures of such high spatial resolution that, at that close distance, a mosaic of 25 individual images is needed to cover the entire Sun. Taken one after the other, the full image was captured over a period of more than four hours because each tile takes about 10 minutes, including the time for the spacecraft to point from one segment to the next,” said ESA in its announcement.
What do these images reveal about the Sun
For years, scientists have been puzzled by the Sun’s behavior. One of the most characteristic yet unique traits of our home star is that the temperature of the Sun shows anomaly as you go above the surface. “Usually the temperature drops as you move away from a hot object. But above the Sun, the corona reaches a million degrees Celsius whereas the surface is only about 5000°C. Investigating this mystery is one of the key scientific objectives of the Solar Orbiter,” said ESA.
These images highlight the capability of Solar Orbiter in observing the Sun in a better way. The spacecraft can take a look at the star when solar flares or coronal mass ejection (CME) are discharged to accurately track its behavior and understand how the temperature starts at a lower point and increases subsequently.