The Solar Orbiter mission recently flew close to the Sun to show Earth’s nearest star over 20 days from September 20 to October 10.
The stunning sequence was taken during a particularly active time, hence the large plasma plumes sprouting from the Sun.
The European Space Agency (ESA) operates the Solar Orbiter mission and they released the incredible timelapse that was taken with the spacecraft’s high-resolution Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI). The EUI was in full sun mode which enables scientists to view the entire star.
Scientists enhanced the colors in the timelapse because human eyes cannot see the ultraviolet wavelength detected by the instrument.
As the star rotates in the video we see just how active it is. Its corona atmosphere reaches temperatures of up to 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius).
“So much of modern society relies on spacecraft in orbit around Earth to provide essential communications and navigation. Understanding more about the Sun and the space weather it generates will help companies operate their satellites around Earth safely and securely,” writes the ESA.
Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the image jumps slightly toward the end of the sequence. This is because the EUI sometimes fails to send data back to Earth.
Depending on where Solar Orbiter is along its orbit, it can take days or weeks for the data it records to be transmitted back to Earth.
The Solar Orbiter makes regular close passes of the sun that are within the orbit of Mercury. It doesn’t get as close as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, but, it does carry high-resolution cameras that simply wouldn’t survive the hotter temperatures that Parker travels to.
As Space notes, the Solar Orbiter also makes regular flybys of the planet Venus, using its gravity to gradually tilt its orbit out of the ecliptic plane in which planets orbit. These maneuvers will eventually allow Solar Orbiter to view the sun’s poles in detail, which no spacecraft has done before. Scientists believe that the polar regions harbor clues about how the star generates its magnetic field, which in turn drives its 11-year cycle of activity, the ebb and flow in the production of sunspots, solar flares, and eruptions.