The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently released the first images from the Solar Orbiter, including the closest photos ever taken of the Sun.
“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. “These amazing images will help scientists 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.”
The images were taken as the Solar Orbiter flew within 48 million miles (77 million kilometers) of the Sun and using 10 instruments.
Principal investigator David Berghmans, an astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, calls the balls of light dotting the image of the Sun as ‘campfires’.
“The campfires we are talking about here are the little nephews of solar flares, at least a million, perhaps a billion times smaller,” Berghmans said. “When looking at the new high-resolution EUI images, they are literally everywhere we look.”
Though NASA has no explanation for the campfires as of yet, they theorize the campfires to be mini-explosions known as nanoflares: “tiny but ubiquitous sparks theorized to help heat the Sun’s outer atmosphere or corona, to its temperature 300 times hotter than the solar surface.”
The Solar Orbiter is an international collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. It launched last February 9 and completed its first close pass of the Sun in mid-June, resulting in the photos we now have.
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