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The Solar Orbiter Probe Has Received The First Close-Up Photos Of The Sun

The Solar Orbiter Probe Has Received The First Close-Up Photos Of The Sun

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft transmitted to Earth the first photos of the Sun, obtained from a distance of 77 million km from the Sun's surface. Scientists first saw miniature images of solar flares on them. The mission participants told about this at an online briefing held at the headquarters of the European Space Agency (ESA).

"We are very happy that we have received these images, but this is just the beginning. Our mission will continue its journey through the inner Solar system and come even closer to the Sun in about two years. In the end, the device will be at a distance of 42 million km from its surface. This is four times less than the distance between the Earth and the Sun," said Daniel Mueller, scientific Director of the mission at ESA.

Solar Orbiter is a joint project of NASA and ESA. Its mission is designed for seven years, during which the device will observe solar activity and the polar regions of our star. The device was launched on February 10, 2020, from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V launch vehicle. The cost of the mission is estimated at about $ 1.5 billion.

The probe is equipped with ten different instruments, six of which will be constantly pointed at the Sun, and the other four are needed to study the state of the environment around the device itself. Besides, the Solar Orbiter has a special heat shield, thanks to which the device can approach the Sun at a distance of up to 42 million km.

Recently, as Mueller noted, the mission's specialists finished checking the Solar Orbiter instruments before the mission got close to the Sun for the first time, approaching it at a distance of 77 million km. Thanks to this, scientists received the first scientific data. These measurements, according to the head of Solar Orbiter, have already brought several interesting and unexpected discoveries.

The reverse side of the Sun

In particular, photos of the Sun's surface obtained by the EUI ultraviolet camera indicated that miniature flashes occur on the Sun's surface. Astronomers have dubbed them "solar fires." This structure, as the researchers suggest, plays an important role in the heating of the corona of the Sun to extremely high temperatures.

Researchers emphasize that it is too early to say that Solar Orbiter has uncovered this mechanism. However, they hope that the following observations will help them prove this.

Besides, the probe received the first data on what the areas of magnetic activity on the Sun look like, as well as related spots and other structures on the "backside" of the Sun, which is hidden from all observers on Earth.

These observations are especially important for astronomers since until recently our Sun was in "hibernation" and there were very few visible large spots on its surface. Such data, astrophysicists hope, will reveal what processes control the Sun's 11-year cycle of activity.

Astronomers also measured the properties of the solar wind at the moment of the maximum approach of the spacecraft to the star. This data, as well as subsequent measurements of this kind, the researchers hope will help scientists understand how this stream of charged particles is formed and where it occurs.

More detailed data, as noted by the scientists, they expect to get at the end of next year, when the Solar Orbiter once again gets close to the Sun, as well as in the second half of 2022, when the probe after a series of gravitational maneuvers will enter a stable orbit around the Sun and will approach it closer than mercury.