Solar Orbiter is Now Capturing the Closest-Ever Pictures of the Sun

ESA/NASA’s Sun-explorer Solar Orbiter reached its first perihelion on 15 June 2020, getting as close as 77 million km to the star’s surface. (Illustration credit: ESA/Medialab)

(News from ESA)

On June 15, 2020, the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft made its first close approach to the Sun (perihelion), coming within 77 million kilometers (48 million miles) of its surface—about half the distance between the Sun and Earth.

Over the next week mission scientists will test the spacecraft’s ten science instruments, including the six telescopes on board, which will acquire close-up images of the Sun in unison for the first time. According to ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller, the images will be the closest images of the Sun ever captured.“We have never taken pictures of the Sun from a closer distance than this,” Daniel says. “There have been higher resolution close-ups, e.g. taken by the four-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii earlier this year. But from Earth, with the atmosphere between the telescope and the Sun, you can only see a small part of the solar spectrum that you can see from space.”

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, makes much closer approaches (6.2 million km at closest approach). But it doesn’t have cameras capable of directly imaging the Sun.

This is where Solar Orbiter comes in. Beyond accomplishing its own science goals, Solar Orbiter will provide contextual information to improve the understanding of Parker Solar Probe’s in situ measurements. By working together in this way, the two spacecraft will collect complementary data sets will allow more science to be distilled from the two missions than either could manage on its own. (Source)

Together Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe will fill in gaps in our understanding of how our home star works. Infographic credit: ESA–S.Poletti

Since the Solar Orbiter spacecraft is currently 134 million kilometers from Earth it will take about a week for all perihelion images to be downloaded. The science teams will then process the images before releasing them to the public in mid-July.

Source / read the full news story here.

Update July 10: the first images from Solar Orbiter will be revealed to the public during a press conference on Thursday, July 16.