Pictures are coming in from Solar Orbiter

One of the best things about astronomy is that it is a non-stop supply of amazing images. Almost every new mission or telescope offers new ways of seeing the universe, and when visually translated can offer truly stunning images of some of the most beautiful places. interesting in that universe. Humanity is now beginning to process the images from one of the latest missions to grace the heavens: the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter. And boy are those images amazing.

The data that the scientists analyze is collected using ten different instruments made up of both telescopes and in-situ instruments. They have collaborated to create datasets (and in some cases images) of three very different objects.

The first data set focuses on the most unpredictable environmental environment – weather. In this case, however, it is the weather of space, and especially the solar winds that sometimes emanate from the sun itself. Solar Orbiter’s in-situ instruments were able to work out where the solar wind that was buffeting the spacecraft came from. One particular wind that they were monitoring appeared to have arrived in June 2020 near a “coronal hole”, where the sun’s magnetosphere allows the wind, which is usually on the sun itself. , to be sent into space.

Video showing some of the data captured by the Solar Orbiter.
Credit: ESA

Another interesting data set on space weather was the role of the Solar Orbiter in a multipoint assessment of coronal mass ejection (CME). The CME was guided as the Solar Orbiter while aligned between the sun and the Earth, so the CME passed the orbiter and finally hit the Earth a few hours later. after that. Surrounding the Earth at the time was BepiColombo, ESA’s first mission to Mercury. BepiColombo also raised the mark for the CME when it hit Earth.

There was a third satellite that added additional data points – Stereo-A, a NASA mission that has been monitoring the sun since 2006. It first built the CME as it was released from the solar, and was able to watch as it hit the Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo respectively. Data points from all three of these platforms can be used to help analyze any interesting aspects of this, and possibly others, CME.

Graphical illustration of the position of the various instruments monitoring CME recently.
Graphic showing the various spacecraft involved in the discovery of the CME that hit Solar Orbiter back in April 2020.
Credit: ESA

Surprisingly, there was another probe that did not even detect the CME, even though it was specifically designed to detect such onions. SOHO, an orbiter that has been monitoring the sun since 1995, was barely noticed when it was hit by the CME while it was at LaGrange ‘s L1 point on Earth. Additional data from the observatory would have led to a further increase in the funds already collected, but now scientists need to make a puzzle about the absence of the data rather than its meaning.

The second data set relates to the “campfires” first spotted in the first batch of Solar Orbiter images from earlier this year. Research teams have begun to note that campfires may be the long-sought “nano-flames” for solar corona heating.

A close look at the sun marks a
Image showing a “campfire” that could be a popular nano-flame.
Credit: ESA

There is still no definitive answer in the bag though, as additional data needs to be collected, especially on the energy levels of the campfires. Frédéric Auchère, Chair of the Solar Orbiter Remote Sensing Working Group, said, “Currently, we only have commissioning data… and the results are very early. But clearly, we see very interesting things. ”

The third data set came from something serendipitous of cosmic time. When the Solar Orbiter was launched, program managers noticed that it was going through the tail of the ATLAS comet. This provided a unique opportunity to collect a little more data, even if Solar Orbiter instruments were not designed for financial meeting.

Image showing ATLAS comet distribution.
Hubble images of the ATLAS comet disintegrating before Solar Orbiter went through the tail.
Credits: NASA, ESA, STSci, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

What made the event even more interesting is that ATLAS split in April 2020, before Solar Orbit reached its tail. While there was a chance that the spacecraft would find nothing at all as a result of the comet ‘s release, it was actually picking up spikes in magnetic signatures as well as pieces of interstellar dust. As Tim Horbury, Chairman of the In-Situ Solar Orbiter Working Group, said, “This is the first time we have traveled through the wake of an isolated comet”.

Even though there don’t seem to be any pictures from the Solar Orbiter of the comet’s release, there were some amazing ones from Hubble. And while Solar Orbiter continues its data collection mission with a couple of Venus flybys and a spectacular view close to the sun, it looks like amazing pictures of the nearest star are yet to come.

Learn more:
ESA: Solar Orbiter: turning images into physics
UT: They’re in! First images from ESA Solar Orbiter Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes its first flyby of the sun

Credit Lead Image: Image of the sun from the Solar Orbiter. Credit: ESA