“We’ve never been closer to the sun with a camera. And this is just the beginning of the long epic journey of Solar Orbiter.”
— Daniel Muller, Ph.D., Project Scientist, Solar Orbiter Mission by ESA and NASA, ESA Press Conference on July 16, 2020
July 17, 2020 Albuquerque, New Mexico – NASA and the European Space Agency on Thursday released the closest images ever taken of the sun’s surface. The instrument is the new Solar Orbiter launched in February 2020 and taking these photographs from only 48 million miles away after its first pass of the sun in June 2020.
In this series of images, the Solar Orbiter reveals bright little flames erupting from the sun’s granular surface. Compared to massive solar flares, scientists at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in charge of the Solar Orbiter, reported, “The campfires are little relatives of the solar flares that we can observe from Earth, but the little ‘flames’ are a million or billion times smaller. The sun might look quiet, but when we look in this unprecedented detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look. We couldn’t believe this when we first saw them.”
NASA and ESA report that it’s not yet clear what these campfires are or how they correspond to solar brightenings observed by other spacecraft. But it’s possible they are mini-explosions known as nanoflares – tiny but ubiquitous sparks theorized to help heat the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, to its temperature 300 times hotter than the solar surface.
To know for sure, scientists need a more precise measurement of the campfires’ temperature. Fortunately, the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment, or SPICE instrument, also on Solar Orbiter, does just that.
“So we’re eagerly awaiting our next data set,” said Frédéric Auchère, principal investigator for SPICE operations at the Institute for Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France. “The hope is to detect nanoflares for sure and to quantify their role in coronal heating.”
The Solar and Heliospheric Imager, or SoloHI, led by Russell Howard of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., revealed the so-called zodiacal light, light from the Sun reflecting off of interplanetary dust – a light so faint that the bright face of the Sun normally obscures it. To see it, SoloHI had to reduce the Sun’s light to one trillionth of its original brightness.
“The images produced such a perfect zodiacal light pattern, so clean,” Howard said. “That gives us a lot of confidence that we will be able to see solar wind structures when we get closer to the Sun.”
What is the relationship between all the little campfires, their temperatures and “solar brightenings” that have been reported by other spacecraft? The Solar Observatory does have a Coronal Environment, or SPICE instrument, so that it can make precise measurements of the campfire temperatures. Once the tiny flare temperatures are measured, astrophysicists want to figure out how much they contribute to coronal heating.
The orbit of the new Solar Orbiter will spiral inward toward the sun over the next two years reaching its closest approach at 26 million miles from the sun’s surface. Its NASA and ESA mission is to complete 22 orbits of the sun in 10 years.
02-01-2020 – Astounding, Eerily Beautiful Surface of Our Sun.
09-13-2019 – Second “Interstellar Visitor,” After Oumuamua, On Its Way To Our Sun.
05-03-2019 – Is This U.S. 2017 Patent to Deflect Asteroids, Nuclear Missiles and Strong Solar Prominences A “Gift” From Friendly E.T.s?
03-06-2018 – Exoplanet Near Earth’s Nearest Star Might Have Been Scorched by Gigantic Solar Flare
ESA Solar Gallery: https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Space_Science/Solar_
ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter Returns First Data, Snaps Closest Pictures of the Sun: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/solar-orbiter-returns-first-data-snaps-closest-pictures-of-the-sun
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