New pictures of the Sun taken just 77 million km (48 million miles) from its surface are the closest ever acquired by cameras.
They come from the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO) probe, which was launched earlier this year.
Among the UK-assembled craft’s novel insights are views of mini-flares dubbed “camp fires”.
These are millionths of the size of the Sun’s giant flares that are routinely observed by Earth telescopes.
Whether these miniature versions are driven by the same mechanisms, though, is unclear at this stage, says Dr David Long, Co-Principal Investigator onSolO‘s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI).
“Dotted across the surface, these small flares might play an important role in a mysterious phenomenon called coronal heating, whereby the Sun’s outer layer, or corona, is more than 200-500 times hotter than the layers below.
“We are looking forward to investigating this further as Solar Orbiter gets closer to the Sun and our home star becomes more active,” the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, researcher explained.
The European Space Agency (Esa) satellite was despatched ona rocket from Cape Canaveral in the USin February. Its mission is to reveal the secrets of our star’s dynamic behaviour.
The Sun’s emissions have profound impacts at Earth that go far beyond just providing light and warmth.
Often, they are disruptive; outbursts of charged particles with their entrained magnetic fields will trip electronics on satellites and degrade radio communications.
SolO could help scientists better predict this interference.
“The recent situation with coronavirus has proved how important it is to stay connected, and satellites are part of that connectivity,” said Dr Caroline Harper, the head of space science at the UK Space Agency. “So, it really is important that we learn more about the Sun so that we can predict its weather, its space weather, in the same ways we’ve learned how to do (with weather) here on Earth.”