Sun image

Credit: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL


16 July 2020

Orbiter's First images

Copyright: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL

The first images from Solar Orbiter, a new Sun-observing mission by ESA and NASA, have revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed 'campfires', near the surface of our closest star.

According to the scientists behind the mission, seeing phenomena that were not observable in detail before hints at the enormous potential of Solar Orbiter, which has only just finished its early phase of technical verification known as commissioning.

These are only the first images and we can already see interesting new phenomena," says Daniel Müller, ESA's Solar Orbiter Project Scientist. "We didn't really expect such great results right from the start. We can also see how our ten scientific instruments complement each other, providing a holistic picture of the Sun and the surrounding environment.

The unique aspect of the Solar Orbiter mission is that no other spacecraft has been able to take images of the Sun's surface from a closer distance.

The Sun is some 333,400 times more massive than Earth (mass= 1.99 x lO 30 kg), and contains 99.86% of the mass of the entire solar system. It is held together by gravitational attraction, producing immense pressure and temperature at its core (more than a billion times that of the atmosphere on Earth, and a density about 160 times that of water).

Copyright: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL


Orbiter spots campfires on the Sun

The campfires are little relatives of the solar flares that we can observe from Earth, million or billion times smaller," says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB), Principal Investigator of the EUI instrument, which takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun's atmosphere, known as the solar corona. "The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look.

The scientists do not know yet whether the campfires are just tiny versions of big flares, or whether they are driven by different mechanisms. There are, however, already theories that these miniature flares could be contributing to one of the most mysterious phenomena on the Sun, the coronal heating.

Credit: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL


High-resolution Sun images

These campfires are totally insignificant each by themselves, but summing up their effect all over the Sun, they might be the dominant contribution to the heating of the solar corona," says Frédéric Auchère, of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), France, Co-Principal Investigator of EUI.

The solar corona is the outermost layer of the Sun's atmosphere that extends millions of kilometres into outer space. Its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius, which is orders of magnitude hotter than the surface of the Sun, a 'cool' 5500 °C. After many decades of studies, the physical mechanisms that heat the corona are still not fully understood, but identifying them is considered the 'holy grail' of solar physics.


Image showing magnetic field lines on the surface of the Sun

The Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI) is another cutting-edge instrument aboard Solar Orbiter. It makes high-resolution measurements of the magnetic field lines on the surface of the Sun. It is designed to monitor active regions on the Sun, areas with especially strong magnetic fields, which can give birth to solar flares.

During solar flares, the Sun releases bursts of energetic particles that enhance the solar wind that constantly emanates from the star into the surrounding space. When these particles interact with Earth's magnetosphere, they can cause magnetic storms that can disrupt telecommunication networks and power grids on the ground.

The magnetograms, showing how the strength of the solar magnetic field varies across the Sun's surface, could be then compared with the measurements from the in situ instruments.

Credit: Solar Orbiter/PHI Team/ESA & NASA

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Sun Emits Third Solar Flare in 2 Days

Oct. 25, 2013

Sun erupted a solar

UPDATE:Another solar flare erupted from the same area of the sun on Oct. 25, 2013,which peaked at 11:03 a.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X2.1 class.

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 4:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

This flare is classified as an X1.7 class flare. "X-class" denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. In the past, X-class flares of this intensity have caused degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.

Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is currently near solar maximum conditions. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity. The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle occurred in  February 2011. The largest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 onAug. 9, 2011.

Image Credit:NASA/SDO/GSFC

Solar Filament Eruption Creates 'Canyon of Fire'

Sept. 29-30, 2013

Another image of solar material eruption

A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

Image Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Flaring Active Region

Sept. 29-30, 2013

Image of the Sun sunflares

Active Region 1514 just could not contain itself as it popped off over a dozen flashes, minor eruptions, and flares over almost two days (June 27-29, 2012). There is a larger blast near the end of the video clip. The jerking of the Sun also near the end was caused by some calibration testing by the spacecraft. We'll be keeping a close eye on this one as it rotates more towards facing Earth.

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Earth-Directed Coronal Mass Ejection From the Sun


Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun

On March 15, 2013, at 2:54 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later and affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 900 miles per second, which is a fairly fast speed for CMEs. Historically, CMEs at this speed have caused mild to moderate effects at Earth.

The NASA research models also show that the CME may pass by the Spitzer and Messenger spacecraft. NASA has notified their mission operators. There is, however, only minor particle radiation associated with this event, which is what would normally concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip on board computer electronics.

Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later. Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they connect with the outside of the Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, geomagnetic storms caused by CMEs such as this one have usually been of mild to medium strength.

NASA's SDO Observes Fast-Growing Sunspot


Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun

As magnetic fields on the sun rearrange and realign, dark spots known as sunspots can appear on its surface. Over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013, scientists watched a giant sunspot form in under 48 hours. It has grown to over six Earth diameters across but its full extent is hard to judge since the spot lies on a sphere not a flat disk.

The spot quickly evolved into what's called a delta region, in which the lighter areas around the sunspot, the penumbra, exhibit magnetic fields that point in the opposite direction of those fields in the center, dark area. This is a fairly unstable configuration that scientists know can lead to eruptions of radiation on the sun called solar flares.

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