Article image

See the Sun in 'exquisite detail' in rare solar orbiter video

Observations from the Solar Orbiter spacecraft have provided unprecedented insights into the dynamic behavior the sun. The mission, launched in 2020, aims to unravel the mysteries of our star’s atmosphere and its influence on the solar system.

Sun’s corona conundrum

One of the most enduring puzzles in solar science is the extraordinary temperature of the sun‘s corona, its outer atmosphere. While the sun’s visible surface, the photosphere, has a temperature of approximately 9,931 degrees Fahrenheit, the corona can reach temperatures exceeding 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. This extreme temperature discrepancy has baffled scientists for decades.

The Solar Orbiter is a collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. It features a variety of scientific instruments that were built to study the sun’s atmosphere and heating processes.

The instruments include telescopes, spectrometers, and particle detectors. Together, they offer detailed observations of the solar corona and solar wind interactions.

New perspective on the Sun by solar orbiter

The footage released this week was captured in September 2023. At that time, the spacecraft was two-thirds of the distance between Earth and the sun.

Contrary to the static image we often see, the footage reveals a dynamic environment in which charged gas, or plasma, flows along magnetic field lines. This flow creates intricate patterns on the sun’s surface.

The video reveals hair-like structures made of charged gas, known as plasma. These structures follow magnetic field lines that originate from deep within the sun. Also visible are bright, hot regions where temperatures reach 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. Alongside these are darker, cooler areas where material absorbs radiation.

Hidden features of the sun

The video captured by the Solar Orbiter and meticulously annotated by scientists provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the sun’s intricate features, which are typically hidden from view at greater distances.

Among these features is what scientists refer to as coronal “moss.” This feature, resembling delicate, lace-like patterns, forms within the sun’s lower atmosphere and is a testament to the complex interactions occurring there.

In addition to the moss, the video also shows towering spires of gas, known as “spicules.” These spicules stretch high above the sun’s surface and play a crucial role in revealing the dynamic processes governing the sun’s atmosphere.

Moreover, the footage documents a significant event on the sun — an eruption so large it’s comparable in size to Earth itself. The dramatic phenomenon is followed by what is known as “coronal rain.” This process involves the cooling of plasma after the eruption, which then falls back towards the sun’s surface.

This cycle of heating and cooling is not only mesmerizing to observe but also provides critical insights into the mechanisms of solar activity, illustrating the sun’s ability to influence its surroundings through such powerful events.

Significance of solar orbiter

The Solar Orbiter boasts a cutting-edge instrument called the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, which was designed and built by Airbus Defence & Space in the UK. It specifically targets high-resolution observations of the sun’s atmosphere, enabling detailed studies of its dynamic properties.

With this instrument, scientists capture details of the sun’s atmosphere with unprecedented clarity and detail. This breakthrough technology provides unparalleled insights into the dynamics and composition of the sun’s outer layers.

Implications for science and technology

Understanding the sun’s behavior is essential for predicting space weather. This, in turn, plays a significant role in affecting satellite communications, power grids, and other critical technological infrastructure.

By studying the sun, we can better anticipate and mitigate these impacts. The observations made by the Solar Orbiter are crucial in this context, as they enhance our scientific understanding of how the sun influences Earth and the broader solar system.

This is merely the initial phase of the Solar Orbiter’s mission. As the spacecraft continues its orbit and approaches the sun even closer, it will gather more detailed data. The forthcoming observations are expected to provide deeper insights into the sun’s properties and behaviors. This continuous stream of information will be invaluable in helping scientists and researchers understand our nearest star and its profound impact on our planet.

As the Solar Orbiter ventures closer to the sun, scientists eagerly anticipate further discoveries that will illuminate the complexities of our star.

Image & Video Credit: ESA/NASA/ Solar Orbiter


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates. 

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day