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Solar Orbiter sees the Sun bursting with tiny explosions of light

17 Jul 2020, 13:00 UTC
Solar Orbiter sees the Sun bursting with tiny explosions of light
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The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter — or SolO — spacecraft launched in February 2020, beginning a seven-year-long mission to intensively study the Sun. It's loaded with 10 different scientific instruments to investigate a multitude of solar phenomena, including things that happen on its surface and the inner corona, and will help astronomers understand the peculiar mechanisms that go on there.

It just finished its commissioning phase, where the instruments are turned on and checked out after launch. Other spacecraft have gotten closer to the Sun (notably NASA's Parker Solar Probe), but no other mission gets this close that is also equipped with sunward-facing imagers, capable of taking high-resolution shots of our nearest star.

SolO is not only performing well, it's already started taking data despite not being in its true operational orbit yet. And one thing it's found is already exciting solar astronomers, because it's a phenomenon never seen before: Tiny (well, tiny for the Sun, still terrifyingly powerful on a human scale) bursts of light they've nicknamed "campfires."

An image of the Sun from Solar Orbiter shows a “campfire” (arrowed), a small burst of energy that appears to be happening all over the Sun’s surface. This image is ...

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