November 30, 2022

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A massive solar explosion captured by a solar-powered spacecraft

A massive solar explosion captured by a solar-powered spacecraft

Solar Orbiter and Soho’s view of the giant eruption – close-up. Credit: Solar Orbiter Team / EUI, SOHO / LASCO, ESA and NASA

European Space Agency /[{” attribute=””>NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft has captured the largest solar prominence eruption ever observed in a single image together with the full solar disc.

Solar prominences are large structures of tangled magnetic field lines that keep dense concentrations of solar plasma suspended above the Sun’s surface, sometimes taking the form of arching loops. They are often associated with coronal mass ejections, which if directed towards Earth, can wreak havoc with our technology and everyday lives.

This last event occurred on February 15, 2022 and stretched millions of miles into space. The coronal mass ejection was not directed at Earth. In fact, it is moving away from us. There is no trace of the eruption on the solar disk opposite the spacecraft – which is currently approaching the line of the Earth and the Sun – which means it must have come from the side of the Sun facing away from us.

The Extreme Ultraviolet Imager image from the Full Sun Imager aboard the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft captured a massive solar outburst on February 15, 2022. Solar prominences are large structures made of tangled magnetic field lines that carry dense concentrations of solar plasma above the surface. † The surface of the Sun is often curved rings. This is the largest solar eruption ever observed in a single image of the entire solar disk. Credit: Solar Orbiter / EUI Team / European Space Agency and NASA

The images were taken by “Full Sun Imager” (FSI). Extreme UV Photography (EUI) on the solar probe. FSI is designed to look at the entire solar disk, even during passes close to the Sun, such as the upcoming perihelion corridor next month. At its closest approach on March 26, when the spacecraft will pass within 0.3 times the distance between the Sun and Earth, the Sun will fill a much larger portion of the telescope’s field of view. At this point, there is still plenty of “view margin” around the disk, allowing amazing detail to be captured by the FSI for about 3.5 million kilometres, five times the radius of the Sun.

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Other space telescopes such as ESA/NASA SOHO . satellite You often see solar activity like this, but either near the sun, or further through the membrane, which blocks the glare from the solar disk to allow detailed images of the corona itself. Thus, the prominence observed by the Solar Orbiter is the largest event of its kind captured in a single field of view along with the solar disk, opening new possibilities for learning how events like these relate to the solar disk for the first time. At the same time, SOHO It can provide additional views for greater distances.

There were also other space missions that monitored the event, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Next week, the Solar Probe and Parker Solar Probe will conduct joint custom observations during the passage of Parker’s perihelion.

Even non-solar science spacecraft felt their explosion – European Space Agency /[{” attribute=””>JAXA BepiColombo mission, currently in the vicinity of Mercury’s orbit – detected a massive increase in the readings for electrons, protons, and heavy ions with its radiation monitor.

And while this event did not send a blast of deadly particles towards Earth, it is an important reminder of the unpredictable nature of the Sun and the importance of understanding and monitoring its behavior. Together with ESA’s future dedicated space weather mission Vigil, which will provide unique views of events like these, we can better protect our home planet from the Sun’s violent outbursts.