Solar Orbiter camera hacked for a better look at the sun

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes a long series of flybys of different planets to bring them closer and closer to the Sun on each pass. It will eventually reach a distance of 26 million miles to closely observe the Sun and enter the orbit of Mercury. It will be the closest camera to the Sun ever reached, in order to capture detailed images of the Sun’s corona and its local environment.

A new way to see the sun

However, in between approaches to the Sun, the Solar Orbiter team does not sit idle. Recently, members of the instrument team for Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging (EUI) camera found a new way to leverage the instrument to make it more sensitive to faint extreme ultraviolet light.

The hack came by chance, as engineers made a modification to its security door during the construction phase of the camera. There were a series of lockable doors above the device that protected it during launch and as it traveled through the solar system, and the safety door had a small extra weight added to it, called a thumb. The team realized that when the door was halfway open, this thumb would dangle in front of the brightest part of the sun’s disk, allowing them to detect faint light coming from the sun’s atmosphere.

“It was a real breakthrough,” EUI team member Frédéric Ocher, of the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Paris-Sud, said in a statement. “I had the idea of ​​doing this and seeing if it would work. It’s actually a very simple modification to the tool.

Scientists have put ESA and NASA’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) into a new working mode to record a part of the Sun’s atmosphere that has been nearly impossible to image until now. By covering the Sun’s bright disk with a “veiler” inside the instrument, the EUI can detect a million times fainter ultraviolet light coming from the surrounding corona. ESA and NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI team; F. Osher et al. (2023); Solar disk: NASA/stereo

The team tried out their idea and found it to be successful, using the thumb as a mysterious tool. This turns the camera into something like a makeshift coronagraph, a special instrument designed to block out bright light from the star to see its surroundings more clearly. In the past, coronagraphs and cameras were separate tools, but this shows that it is possible to have one tool that can do both.

“We have shown that this works so well that you can now think about a new type of instrument that can image the Sun and its corona,” said Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter project scientist.

In the video posted by scientists, the empty patch of occultation had an image of the sun’s disk superimposed over it. It allows researchers to see details of the sun’s atmosphere, especially the deep layers that are usually impossible to observe.

“The physics are changing there, the magnetic structures are changing there, and we haven’t gotten a close look at them before. There must be some secrets that we can find out now,” said David Bergmans, principal investigator at EUI at the Belgian Royal Observatory.

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(Tags for translation) Space

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