The Sun doesn’t just account for much of Earth’s weather reports. It also causes space weather like solar flares and storms. These chaotic events can affect us all the way on Earth.
Eruptions of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun — coronal mass ejections (CME) — can disrupt power grids on Earth, and even pose a danger to astronauts in space.
The European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar Orbiter is on a seven-year mission to study the Sun’s activity, using an array of instruments that collect different forms of data.
Solar Orbiter’s main mission doesn’t begin until November 2021, but in February it made a chance observation: a coronal mass ejection.
Because Solar Orbiter was on the other side of the Sun from Earth, it’s taken until now to receive and analyze the data it sent back home.
Aside from surprise solar eruptions, Solar Orbiter is expected to record the first images of the Sun’s polar regions. Only time will tell if they live up to the mission’s auspicious start.