Solar Orbiter spies on a “hedgehog” during a close-up of the sun

The spacecraft, which flew next to the sun on March 26, returned a treasure trove of new images and knowledge after reaching a third of the distance from the sun to Earth. The Solar Orbiter’s thermal shield reached 932 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius), but it worked as expected and protected the spacecraft during its historic first flight.
The Solar Orbiter is equipped with a multilayer thermal shield, a special coating called “Solar Black” made of burnt bone and sliding doors that protect its instruments. The spacecraft also has solar panels that can be removed from the worst elements of heat and cooling inside. Together, these prevent the spacecraft from melting as it studies the sun.

The mission, a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, captured images of strong flares and mass coronavirus eruptions and prospects for unexplored solar poles. The orbital he even spied on a new feature nicknamed the “hedgehog”.

Scientists are just beginning to analyze the full set of data recorded by the 10 scientific instruments of orbit, but the knowledge will deepen our understanding of the sun’s behavior and how it affects the weather of space, which affects the Earth.

The sun is becoming more and more active and the Solar Orbiter is watching its eruptions as the sun sets towards the solar maximum.

It is important to understand the solar cycle, because solar-induced space weather – explosions such as solar flares and corona mass eruptions – can affect the grid, satellites, GPS, airlines, rockets and astronauts in space.

Every 11 years, the sun completes a solar cycle of calm and stormy activity and begins a new one. The current solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, officially started in December 2019 and the next solar peak, when the sun experiences maximum activity, is projected to occur in July 2025.

During a solar cycle, the sun shifts from a calm period to a very intense and active period. This activity is monitored by counting sunspots and how many are visible over time. Sunspots, or dark spots in the sun, are the source of explosive flashes and eruptions that release light, solar material, and energy into space.

This puts the Solar Orbiter, and another mission called the Parker Solar Probe, in a perfect position to watch as we head toward the solar maximum.

The feature in the lower third of the image has the nickname the solar hedgehog, which was depicted on March 30.

As the Solar Orbiter receives detailed new images of the sun, scientists are trying to determine what they see by comparing them to older solar observations from previous missions to determine if they are known features or unknowns. One of these unexpected findings has been named “the hedgehog”, a feature that extends for 15,534 miles (25,000 kilometers) in the sun and has hot and cold gas peaks.

At present, there is no explanation for what it is or how it formed in the sun’s atmosphere.

The Solar Orbiter also recorded a film with an active region in the sun where the magnetic field releases loops that rise into the atmosphere. The gas moves around the loops, cools and creates “coronal rain” on the surface of the sun. The team also saw “corona moss”, where glowing gas creates lacy patterns in the sun.

“The images are breathtaking,” said David Berghmans, lead researcher at the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, in a statement. “Even if the Solar Orbiter stopped receiving data tomorrow, I would be busy for years trying to figure it all out.”

Revelation of solar mysteries

The Solar Orbiter mission is designed to study the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, and determine how the sun interacts with the sun, a bubble full of charged particles released by the sun extending beyond the sun’s planets. our system. Space weather is created when the sun releases a current of charged particles, called the solar wind, as well as activity from the sun’s magnetic fields.

The crown can reach one million degrees Celsius (1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit), while the surface is 5,000 degrees Celsius (9,000 degrees Fahrenheit). The Solar Orbiter could help determine why the temperature seems to be rising away from the core of the sun, instead of falling.

The south pole of the sun was observed by the orbit on March 30 with the highest resolution ever in this mysterious region.

The spacecraft’s instruments record data from the solar wind and magnetic fields and try to locate them at their source through the complex, magnetic environment and back to the sun. Each organ is responsible for observing and recording different aspects of the sun. The combination of this knowledge could one day be used to help scientists predict space weather from Earth.

In view of the nearby flight, the Solar Orbiter was virtually upstream of the Earth and observed solar winds and massive eruptions of crowns that could be directed towards the Earth. Sending data back in real time at the speed of light has alerted astrologers to watch out for lightning on Earth.

But monitoring space weather in this way could also help us better protect our technological infrastructure, even the astronauts on the International Space Station. A future ESA mission, Vigil, will eventually land at one point on one side of the sun and observe mass ejections of crowns heading towards Earth.

A solar flare was captured in an unprecedented image

The Solar Orbiter is now in position for a third Venus flight in September and its next short passage from the sun in October.

More flybys will bring the spacecraft closer and closer to the star in the coming years. Gradually, the spacecraft will increase its orientation to study the polar regions of the sun more directly than ever before.

This unfamiliar view of the poles could help scientists understand the complex polar magnetic environment of the sun, which could reveal the true heart of the solar cycle.

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