Watch a new video of a spacecraft zooming past the jaws of the Sun

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft has returned the first video of the Sun from two-thirds the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Anyone who saw the Sun’s corona with the naked eye for the first time during the recent total solar eclipse across North America might think they now know what the Sun really looks like. However, as the Solar Orbiter demonstrates, our star looks very different.

Unique observations

One of the great mysteries of solar science is why the Sun’s outer atmosphere—the corona—is hotter than its surface. Launched in 2020, the Q Solar Orbiter has 10 science instruments that allow it to make many unique observations. These include the first close-up telescope observations of the Sun, the first images of the Sun’s north and south poles, and the first complete observation of the solar wind.

This new video shows the transition from the Sun’s lower atmosphere to the outer corona. In short, it’s like a close-up view of the sun. It shows:

  • A hair-like structure consisting of charged gas (plasma) that follows magnetic field lines from within the Sun.
  • Bright, hot regions (about a million degrees Celsius) and dark, cold matter absorb radiation.

Recorded on September 27 last year, but released for the first time this week, the images come from the solar orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager instrument.

Incredible features

It’s perfectly positioned to show some incredible features that are only visible from up close to the Sun. In the lower-left corner is a lacy coronal „moss”, while 10,000 km high gas spheres on the horizon are called „spicules”. The latter originates from the Sun’s chromosphere, a dark pink ring visible after totality begins and just before it ends, on April 8 during totality.

Other features worth watching in the video include an Earth-sized explosion at the center (22 seconds into the video) and the „coronal shower,” fragments of plasma (30 seconds).

Designed and built in the UK by Airbus Defense & Space, the Solar Orbiter is a unique mission because it brings telescopes closer to the Sun than ever before.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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