The Solar Orbiter spacecraft made a milestone, and it captured a giant solar prominence or eruption on the Sun.
It is the largest such event ever observed in a single image and the entire solar disk. It will add to the joint NASA-European mission to better understand solar activity.
“Solar prominences are large structures of tangled magnetic field lines that keep dense concentrations of solar plasma suspended above the sun’s surface, sometimes taking the form of arching loops,” ESA said in a statement Friday (February 18) accompanying the image, which was taken three days before.
Solar prominences “are often associated with coronal mass ejections,” European Space Agency added, speaking of the eruptions of charged particles the Sun emits from time to time. If these eruptions are directed toward Earth, they interfere with satellites, power lines, and other crucial infrastructure.
The event captured on February 15, Tuesday saw a prominence jetting out millions of miles out into the space, with the coronal mass ejection not directed towards our planet, ESA noted. The Extreme Ultraviolet Imager imaged it on Solar Orbiter.
“Other space telescopes such as the ESA/NASA SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] satellite frequently see solar activity like this, but either closer to the sun, or further out by means of an occulter, which blocks out the glare of the sun’s disk to enable detailed imagery of the corona itself,” ESA said.
“Thus, the prominence observed by Solar Orbiter is the largest ever event of its kind to be captured in a single field of view together with the solar disk, opening up new possibilities to see how events like these connect to the solar disk for the first time. At the same time, SOHO can provide complementary views to even larger distances,” ESA added.
Solar Orbiter’s following close approach to the Sun will be on March 26, passing within 0.3 times of the sun-Earth distance. ESA said that the Sun would thus appear much more prominent in images taken in a few weeks.