"Sun" by NASA/ESA / Public Domain

This photo of the Sun is the closest ever taken

Jul 17, 2020

By Elizabeth Gibney

This image — the closest ever taken of the Sun — shows the corona teeming with thousands of miniature solar flares, which scientists have dubbed campfires. The pictures are the first released from the Solar Orbiter mission, led by the European Space Agency.

“When the first images came in, my first thought was this is not possible, it can’t be that good,” David Berghmans, principal investigator for the orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager instrument, told a press briefing on 16 July. “It was much better than we dared to hope for.”

“The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look,” said Berghmans, a solar physicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, in a statement.

The fires are just millionths or billionths of the size of the solar flares visible from Earth, which are energetic eruptions thought to be caused by interactions in the Sun’s magnetic fields. The mission team has yet to work out whether the two phenomena are driven by the same process, but the researchers speculate that the combined effect of the many campfires could contribute to the searing heat of the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The corona is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun’s surface, but the reason is a long-standing mystery.

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