Solar Orbiter closer than ever to the Sun: stunning images acquired


Solar corona polarized image acquired with Metis (Credits: ESA&NASA Solar Orbiter/Metis Team)
Solar corona polarized image acquired with Metis (Credits: ESA&NASA Solar Orbiter/Metis Team)

Stunning images of the solar corona with huge flares have been acquired by Solar Orbiter at its first close perihelion passage on March 26th. Thanks to the peculiar close position of Solar Orbiter to the Sun, i.e. about one third of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, the images have an extraordinary level of detail.

Solar Orbiter is an ESA/NASA mission equipped with different instruments to study the Sun. Among these instruments, there is the coronagraph Metis. It is the first instrument able to observe the solar corona at the same time both in the visible and in the UV. This feature allows for obtaining information on the processes governing the solar wind expansion in the interplanetary medium.

Metis has been funded and managed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). It is the results of the collaboration between the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (Inaf), the Florence and Padua Universities, the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies of the Italian National Research Council (Cnr-Ifn) and an industrial consortium constituted by OHB Italia and Thales Alenia Space Italia.

Thanks to the close perihelion passage of Solar Orbiter and to the high resolution of its telescope optics, Metis has acquired highly detailed images of the solar corona showing filaments and the high dynamism of magnetic fields. The study of these structures, and of the associated physical processes, gives the opportunity to predict geomagnetic storms and, more in general, the space weather.

“This is only the first close perihelion passage for Solar Orbiter, more are to come” says Alain Jody Corso researcher at the Cnr-Ifn in Padova and member of the Metis team “from now on, during the next 5 years, i.e. the operative phase for the mission, such passages will take place every 6/7 months”. Thanks to some fly-by with Venus, Solar Orbiter orbit will be more and more inclined allowing the observation of the Sun’s poles. The study of the Sun’s poles will help our understanding of the physical mechanism governing magnetic activities and the related cycles of the Sun.

«The level of detail reached by the coronal images acquired with Metis is really astonishing», says Fabio Frassetto researcher at the Cnr-Ifn in Padova and coordinator of the Metis working group ‘image enhancement’, “it is a reward for the time spent in the alignment and calibration campaign of Metis on-ground”.

The next close perihelion passage for Solar Orbiter, and Metis, is foreseen for October 2022. In the meantime, the Metis scientific team will have to analyze the images already taken and will plan for the next in-flight calibration and scientific sequences to be acquired.

Per informazioni:
Vania Da Deppo
CNR - Istituto di fotonica e nanotecnologie
Via Trasea 7
35131 Padova

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