A spacecraft revolving around the Sun made its first approach to it

(ORDO NEWS) — A spacecraft orbiting the Sun made its first close approach to the Sun and filmed this encounter in great detail.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) solar orbiter entered a close approach known as perihelion on March 26 at a distance of about 48 million kilometers (30 million miles), inside Mercury’s orbit.

At this approach, the temperature reached approximately 500 degrees Celsius (930 degrees Fahrenheit). Perihelion is expected to be even closer and hotter in the future.

As it flew through its orbit, the spacecraft saw the Sun in a way we’ve never seen it before – including a fascinating, mysterious “hedgehog” feature and detailed views of the normally hidden solar poles.

These new observations, made with 10 Solar Orbiter science instruments working together for the first time, should provide a wealth of data to study the Sun’s behavior, including its wild magnetic fields and the sometimes chaotic weather it throws into interplanetary space.

We have already seen impressive high-resolution images taken by the spacecraft during its close approach. Now the ESA has released video footage of the meeting, providing a glimpse of our magnificent star from the height of a solar probe.

Solar Orbiter will make a huge contribution to the science of the Sun, not least because it will be able to show us parts of the Sun that we normally cannot see.

For example, because the Earth is in orbit around the Sun’s equator, its poles are extremely difficult to study; only a spacecraft orbiting above and below the Sun can see these regions.

The polar regions are believed to be extremely important regions for solar magnetic fields, which play such a huge role in solar activity.

However, because the poles are so hard to see, we don’t know what happens to the magnetic fields there. Through its toolbox, Solar Orbiter offers unparalleled insight into these enigmatic regions.

His March 30 survey of the Sun’s south pole showed an area seething with looping magnetic field lines arcing away from the Sun.

The solar “hedgehog” is another interesting object. It, too, was captured on March 30, and solar physicists have yet to figure out what it is and how it formed. It consists of a relatively small region about 25,000 kilometers across, which was imaged in the extreme ultraviolet to reveal activity in it.

And what activity: hot and less hot spikes of solar gas stick out in all directions in the solar corona, or atmosphere, like the sun’s head.

“The images are breathtaking,” says solar physicist David Bergmans of the Belgian Royal Observatory.

“Even if Solar Obiter stopped receiving data tomorrow, I’d be busy for years trying to figure it all out.”

The main goal of Solar Orbiter is to help scientists understand how the Sun influences the entire heliosphere, or sphere of solar influence, defined by the solar wind, the boundary of which lies beyond the orbit of Pluto.

The solar wind blows particles and magnetic fields into interplanetary space, entangling the planets and having a tangible effect on them.

The closer Solar Orbiter gets to the Sun, the better it can track how the solar wind blows. When the spacecraft approached perihelion on March 21, it detected a stream of energetic particles, and even from this distance, the detection was revealing.

The more energetic particles arrived first, and then the less energetic ones. This suggested that the particles were produced not near the position of the Solar Orbiter, but near the surface of the Sun.

Other instruments have detected solar events that could have spawned particles, accelerating them into space, including a solar flare and a coronal mass ejection not dissimilar to the CME observed by the spacecraft on March 10, see below.

The Sun is quite active at the moment, which means the spacecraft will be sending home absolute buckets of valuable data on solar activity. There are at least 14 more perihelions planned through 2030, during which the craft will fly by 40 million kilometers from the Sun, using Venus flybys to increase its speed as it orbits it.

This first perihelion, so rich in new data and observations, is a tantalizing taste of the coming solar bonanza.

“We are delighted with the quality of the data obtained during the first perihelion,” says solar physicist Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist.

“It’s almost hard to believe that this is just the beginning of the mission. We’ll be very busy.”


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