Launched on February 10, 2020, the Solar Orbiter probe has just completed its commissioning phase, making an initial approach to the Sun. The researchers then took the opportunity to take several photos of our star.

If the Sun is a relatively calm star, we also know that it is sometimes subject to a few “anger episodes” capable of affecting our telecommunications systems. The more we know about the solar weather, the more we will be able to put in place means to defend ourselves against it. To do this, ESA launched an emissary on February 10: the Solar Orbiter probe, propelled into orbit by a NASA Atlas V 411 rocket.

“Solar Orbiter is about to answer some of the biggest scientific questions about our star. Its data will help us better protect our planet from the global challenges of space weather,” said Günther Hasinger, scientific director of ESA.

During its journey, the probe took advantage of the gravitational pull of Earth and Venus to gradually approach the Sun. Ultimately, it will follow an elliptical orbit bringing it back approximately 42 million kilometers away. For comparison, it’s about the same level as the planet Mercury.

In the meantime, the probe has just completed its commissioning phase, during which it made its first approach to the Sun, approaching approximately 77 million kilometers from its surface. Or about half the distance from Earth to our star.

During this event, European and American teams were able to test the dozen instruments on board for the first time.

The researchers also took the opportunity to capture a few photos. The latter have just been shared during a press conference held Thursday online. Here are a few. No other image of the Sun has been taken at such a close distance.

Solar Orbiter s first view of the Sun pillars
The probe’s (EUI) took these images on May 30, 2020. They show the appearance of the Sun at a wavelength of 17 nanometers, which is in the extreme ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Credits: ESA
The Sun s granulation pattern viewed by Solar Orbiter
A close-up image taken with the polarimetric and helioseismic imager (PHI) on May 28. The area measures approximately 200,000 km x 200,000 km and is centered in the middle of the sun. The image shows us the granulation model that results from the movement of hot plasma under the visible surface of our star. Credits: ESA

“These photos exceed our expectations,” said Daniel Müller of ESA during the press conference. We can already see indications of very interesting phenomena that we have not been able to observe in detail before ”.

He also pointed out that the 10 instruments on board the probe “work wonderfully”, together providing a holistic view of the Sun and the solar wind. “It gives us confidence that Solar Orbiter will help us answer deep open questions about our star.”

Stephan Meed

A southern gentleman at heart, Stephan is a man you'll find mudding, off-roading, and fishing on a typical weekend. However, a nutritionist by profession, he is also passionate about fitness and health through natural means. He writes mostly health-related content for the Scientific Origin.