Sat. Feb 24th, 2024
Solar Orbiter snapshot captures surprising surge in activity from the Sun

As the Sun goes through its cycle of activity, we see a rise in brilliant explosions, dark sunspots, loops of plasma, and swirls of super-hot gas. This is due to the solar dynamo, the process that generates the Sun’s magnetic field. At the beginning of this cycle (the solar minimum), there is little activity and few sunspots. However, as we approach solar maximum, activity steadily increases until it reaches its peak before decreasing again to another minimum.

The most recent solar minimum occurred in December 2019, just two months before Solar Orbiter launched. The spacecraft’s early views showed that in February 2021, the Sun was relatively calm. But now we are approaching solar maximum, which is expected to occur in 2025. Recent views taken by Solar Orbiter during a close approach to the Sun in October 2023 show a striking increase in solar activity. This adds weight to recent theories that the maximum could arrive up to a year earlier than expected.

Solar Orbiter will help us predict the timing and strength of solar cycles. Although notoriously tricky, this is vital because solar activity can seriously affect life on Earth; extreme eruptions can damage ground-based electricity grids and disable orbiting satellites. The images were taken by Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument, which reveals the Sun’s upper atmosphere, which has a temperature of around a million degrees Celsius. EUI helps scientists investigate the mysterious heating processes that occur in the Sun’s outer regions. Since EUI views the Sun in ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes, the yellow color is added to help us visualize our changing Sun. Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA, operated by ESA

By Editor

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