A solar probe built by the European pace Agency and NAA has delivered the closest photos ever taken of the un’s surface, revealing a landscape rife with thousands of tiny solar flares that scientists dubbed “campfires” and offering clues about the extreme heat of the outermost part of its atmosphere.
“When the first images came in, my first thought was, ‘This is not possible – it can’t be that good,'” David Berghmans, principal investigator for the olar Orbiter spacecraft’s ultraviolet imager at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, told reporters on Thursday.
The spacecraft, launched from Florida in February, snapped the images in late May using the probe’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager as it orbited nearly 48 million miles (77 million km) from the un’s surface, or roughly halfway between the un and Earth.
The “campfires” are believed to be tiny explosions, called nanoflares, and could explain why the un’s outer shield, the corona, is 300 times hotter than the star’s surface. cientists are awaiting more data from the spacecraft’s other instruments to know for sure.
“We’ve never been closer to the un with a camera, and this is just the beginning of the long epic journey of olar Orbiter,” said Daniel Müller, EA’s olar Orbiter project scientist.
cientists typically have relied upon Earth-based telescopes for closeups of the un’s surface. But Earth’s atmosphere limits the amount of visible light needed to glean views as intimate as those obtained by the olar Orbiter.
The spacecraft also carries plasma-sampling instruments to offer researchers further data.
“That combination really allows us to make links and connections to what’s happening on the un and what’s happening at the spacecraft,” said Holly Gilbert, olar Orbiter project scientist at NAA.
olar Orbiter’s primary mission of examining the un’s polar regions will help researchers understand the origins of the solar wind, charged particles that blast through our solar system and affect satellites and electronics on Earth.
© Thomson Reuters 2020