A cosmic alignment and a little bit of spacecraft gymnastics has provided a ground-breaking measurement that is helping solve the 65-year-old cosmic mystery of why the Sun’s atmosphere is so hot.
Solar Orbiter has made the first ever remote sensing observation of a magnetic phenomenon called a solar ‘switchback’, proving their origin in the solar surface and pointing to a mechanism that might help accelerate the solar wind.
Powerful flares, breathtaking views across the solar poles, and a curious solar ‘hedgehog’ are amongst the haul of spectacular images, movies and data returned by Solar Orbiter from its first close approach to the Sun. Although the analysis of the new dataset has only just started, it is already clear that the ESA-led mission is providing the most extraordinary insights into the Sun’s magnetic behaviour and the way this shapes space weather.
The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft is speeding towards its historic first close pass of the Sun. On 14 March, the spacecraft will pass the orbit of Mercury, the scorched inner planet of our Solar System, and on 26 March it will reach closest approach to the Sun.