Close encounter

Solar Orbiter captures its closest pass by the Sun in spectacular video

See the Sun at rest.

ESA/MediaLab

NASA/SDO

Life on Earth is absolutely dependent on the Sun, but we know precious little about the giant ball of fire around which our lives literally revolve.

ESA’s Solar Orbiter

is meant to fill in a few of the gaps in our knowledge by taking images and other measurements, like readings of radio waves and magnetic fields, of some of the Sun’s most mysterious phenomena.

ESA/MediaLab

On October 27, ESA released data from Solar Orbiter’s latest — and closest — trip past the Sun.

ESA/MediaLab

Solar Orbiter captured images from a vantage point two-thirds of the way from the Earth to the Sun during its October 13 flyby.

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The result is the highest resolution video ever compiled of the Sun’s quiet corona, or the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere.

ESA & NASA

ESA & NASA

In this video, 2048 pixels across, every pixel represents around 65 miles of the Sun’s surface.

The corona is one of Solar Orbiter’s major targets. This region is where flares and coronal mass ejections originate.

SOHO (ESA & NASA)

The quiet corona is much more chill.

The term describes the corona when it’s not venting into space, so the roiling outer shell of the Sun looks comparatively placid.

Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ESA & NASA

Even without any flares or ejections occurring, the gas surrounding the Sun is in constant motion, as this sequence from the Solar Orbiter video shows.

ESA & NASA

ESA & NASA

According to ESA, these peaceful views of the Sun will become less common in the next few years.

The Sun is approaching solar maximum —

the portion of its 11-year cycle with the most turbulent activity. When it arrives in 2025, Solar Orbiter will have its best chance of viewing spectacular eruptions.

NASA/SDO

ESA/NASA SOHO

Just because it’s in a calmer season doesn’t mean the Sun isn’t volatile now. Just last month, Solar Orbiter was hit by a coronal mass ejection.

ESA/MediaLab

The encounter came as Solar Orbiter was performing a gravity assist, using Venus to set it on a path for its October flyby.

Along the way, it captured this sequence of the approach. This video covers September 20 through October 10 as Solar Orbiter rapidly closed distance with the Sun.

ESA & NASA

There’s still plenty to learn

from Solar Orbiter’s latest flyby. ESA says more data from the craft’s 10 instruments will be available in the next few weeks. Then, comparisons with Earth-based observations could reveal even more.

ESA/MediaLab