NASA and the European Space Agency released the first-ever closest snaps of the Sun from it's ESA/NASA's Solar Orbiter as it returns the first data.
The Solar Orbiter launched on February 9, 2020, is an international collaboration between the ESA and NASA to study the closest star, that is the Sun. The orbiter completed its first close pass of the sun in mid-June.
"These unprecedented pictures of the Sun are the closest we have ever obtained," said Holly Gilbert, NASA project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
According to a NASA release,these amazing images will further help scientists to piece together the Sun’s atmospheric layers, "which is important for understanding how it drives space weather near the Earth and throughout the solar system".
Stating that the space agencies didn't expect such an excellent result so soon, scientists said that "Solar Orbiter is off to an excellent start".
However, scientists said that getting to this point was never an easy task as the novel coronavirus forced the mission control at the European Space Operations Center, or ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany to close down completely for more than a week.
"The pandemic required us to perform critical operations remotely — the first time we have ever done that," said Russell Howard, principal investigator for one of Solar Orbiter’s imagers.
But the team adapted, even readying for an unexpected encounter with comet ATLAS’s ion and dust tails on June 1 and 6, respectively.
As per the NASA report, when the orbiter flew within 48 million miles of the Sun, all 10 instruments flicked on, and Solar Orbiter snapped the closest pictures of the Sun to date.
Solar Orbiter carries six imaging instruments, each of which studies a different aspect of the Sun. Normally, the first images from a spacecraft confirm the instruments are working; scientists don’t expect new discoveries from them. But the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, or EUI, on Solar Orbiter returned data hinting at solar features never observed in such detail.
Principal investigator David Berghmans, an astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, points out what he calls "campfires" dotting the Sun in EUI’s images.
However, scientists opine that it’s not yet clear what these campfires are or how they correspond to solar brightenings, as observed by other spacecraft.
They can possible be mini-explosions known as nanoflares, which are tiny, ubiquitous sparks theorized to help heat the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona and is 300 times hotter than the solar surface.
In a bid to know more about the campfires' temperature, scientists are awaiting the next set of data from the orbiter.
"The images produced such a perfect zodiacal light pattern, so clean. That gives us a lot of confidence that we will be able to see solar wind structures when we get closer to the Sun," said a NASA scientist.
(With inputs from ANI)