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Solar Orbiter

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

Solar Orbiter


The European Space Agency has released the closest pictures ever taken of the Sun captured by the Solar Orbiter that was launched in February this year.

  • The spacecraft completed its first close pass of the Sun in mid-June, when it flew within 48 million miles of the Sun with 10 instruments turned on to snap the closest pictures of the giant star to date.

Observations made from these images:

  1. There are mini-flares on the sun that the scientists are calling “camp fires”.
  2. Size: These camp fires are millionths of the size of the Sun’s massive flares that are routinely observed by Earth telescopes.
  3. These small flares could have something to do with the heating process that makes the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, far hotter than its surface. 

Insta Concepts:

What are Solar Flares?

It is a large explosion of magnetic energy in the Sun’s atmosphere which causes an intense burst of increased brightness.

Flares occur in active regions around sunspots.

During solar flares, the Sun releases bursts of energetic particles that enhance the solar wind that constantly emanates from the star into the surrounding space.

When these particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, they can cause magnetic storms that can disrupt telecommunication networks and power grids on the ground.

What is Corona?

The solar corona is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that extends millions of kilometres into outer space.

Its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius, which is orders of magnitude hotter than the surface of the Sun, a ‘cool’ 5500 °C.

  • After many decades of studies, the physical mechanisms that heat the corona are still not fully understood, but identifying them is considered the ‘holy grail’ of solar physics.

About Solar Orbiter Mission:

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA.

The spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in February 2020.

It was selected as the first medium-class mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme.

  • This is the first mission that will provide images of the sun’s north and south poles using a suite of six instruments on board that will capture the spacecraft’s view.
  • It is a seven-year mission and will come within 26 million miles of the sun.
  • It will be able to brave the heat of the sun because it has a custom titanium heat shield coated in calcium phosphateso that it can endure temperatures up to 970 degrees Fahrenheit.

Solar Orbiter will set about answering four top-level science questions:

  1. What drives the solar wind and where does the coronal magnetic field originate from?
  2. How do solar transients drive heliospheric variability?
  3. How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
  4. How does the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?



  • Nineteen ESA Member States are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
  • Solar Orbiter follows the Ulysses spacecraft, another collaboration between ESA and NASA that launched in 1990.


Prelims Link:

  1. About Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope.
  2. What are radio waves?
  3. Different layers of sun?
  4. What are solar flares?
  5. What are Sunspots?
  6. About Sun’s Corona.

Sources: the Hindu.