The Sun’s south pole, as seen by Solar Orbiter at perihelion. Click for full movie.
The European Space Agency (ESA) yesterday released a few of the images taken by its Solar Orbiter spacecraft before and during its first perihelion (closest point in its orbit) on March 26, 2022.
The spacecraft was inside the orbit of Mercury, at about one-third the distance from the Sun to the Earth, and its heatshield was reaching around 500°C. But it dissipated that heat with its innovative technology to keep the spacecraft safe and functioning.
Solar Orbiter carries ten science instruments – nine are led by ESA Member States and one by NASA – all working together in close collaboration to provide unprecedented insight into how our local star ‘works’. Some are remote-sensing instruments that look at the Sun, while others are in-situ instruments that monitor the conditions around the spacecraft, enabling scientists to ‘join the dots’ from what they see happening at the Sun, to what Solar Orbiter ‘feels’ at its location in the solar wind millions of kilometres away.
The photo above, cropped, reduced, and revised slightly to post here, looks at the Sun’s south pole, from the side. The surface of the Sun (the top two thirds) almost looks like thunderheads on Earth, except the rain coming from them are high energy heat and radiation.
The data produced a lot of fascinating short movies, all available at the link, including a phenomenon the scientists have nicknamed a “space hedgehog” because of its look. About 15,000 miles across, “At present no one knows exactly what it is or how it formed in the Sun’s atmosphere.”
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