The European Solar Orbiter spacecraft has been able to drill through unexplored parts of the sun’s atmosphere thanks to scientists applying a simple hack to its main camera.
solar orbitwhich was launched in 2020, made an impressive series of new discoveries during its three-year study the sun Until now. Equipped with an array of ten instruments, the spacecraft has proven particularly capable of unraveling mysteries surrounding the sun’s atmosphere. from discovery Miniature torches called campfiresin the first images of the spacecraft to the recent discovery of Possible mechanism for driving the solar windSolar Orbiter is continually working to bring groundbreaking science around a star in our midst Solar System. And more to come.
The researchers behind one of the Solar Orbiter’s most powerful tools, the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) – a camera that studies the most energetic parts of the ultraviolet light emitted by the Sun – have now revealed, for the first time, an entirely new way to use this powerful tool.
Related: Solar Orbiter catches Mercury crossing the Sun. Here is the amazing video.
This new mode of operation works similarly to a tool called Coronagraph. A coronagraph is an instrument that shields the disk of the Sun to allow scientists to see the surrounding atmosphere, which is a million times thinner than the obscured region. Although Solar Orbiter actually carries a coronal mapping instrument, called METIS, this instrument does the monitoring solar atmosphere In visible light and in the low-energy part of ultraviolet radiation Electromagnetic field.
But in that part of the light spectrum that is only visible to the EUI, scientists can study the most interesting phenomena that occur at the boundary between the sun’s atmosphere and surface.
“Physics are changing there, magnetic structures are changing there, and we haven’t had a good look at it before,” David Berghmans, Principal Investigator at EUI and Heliophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, said in the release. “There must be some secrets that we can find now.”
EUI science team member Frédéric Aucher, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysical Institute of Université Paris-Sud in France, described the new imaging mode as the result of a “hack”, a last-minute modification designed ahead of Solar Orbiter’s launch in 2016. Early 2020 .
“I had the idea to do this and see if it would work,” Osher at the European Space Agency (ESA) said. statement. “It’s actually a very simple modification to the tool.”
Scientists have added a small protruding “thumb” to the hardware shutter. When the shutter is only half open, this thumb blocks the sun’s disk, allowing EUI to see the faint solar atmosphere with great clarity.
In a video sequence obtained through the new imaging mode, scientists combined Solar Orbiter’s EUI view of the sun’s atmosphere with an image of the star captured by NASA Stereo Missionwhich revolves around the Sun at a slightly closer distance from it Land Do. By comparison, the Solar Orbiter follows an elliptical orbit that periodically takes the spacecraft inside the orbit of the innermost planet in the Solar System. Mercury.
By chance, STEREO happened to be looking at the Sun from the same angle that Solar Orbiter was at during trials of the new imaging mode EUI. This allowed the scientists to combine the images and study connections between phenomena observed at the surface and in the atmosphere.
Observers on Earth can normally see the outer portions of the sun’s atmosphere during a total solar eclipse. However, the new EUI imaging mode allows scientists to look at regions of the atmosphere much closer to the Sun’s surface than such rare events and traditional coronal graphics allow.
EUI images the Sun with very high resolution, and although ground-based telescopes with large mirrors can study the Sun’s surface with greater precision, they cannot observe the brilliant high-energy ultraviolet light that EUI sees. This is because this light is being absorbed Earth’s atmosphere before you get to the telescope lenses. On the other hand, the solar orbiter, which is traveling in the vacuum of space, has a crystal clear view of the star. The mission will take the closest-ever images of the star, and in a few years will get a glimpse of the star’s poles, the first of its kind in the world. Scientists hope that studying the sun’s polar regions closely will shed light on the mysterious forces that drive the sun’s magnetic field, which in turn drives the generation of sunspots, solar flares and explosions.