The Solar Orbiter spacecraft spotted a “hedgehog” in the sun.

The spacecraft spied a sharp “hedgehog” on the Sun and watched the flares on the Sun as never before.

Solar Orbiter, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA, launched in February 2020 and now revolves around our star (CH: 09.02.20). On May 18, researchers published images from the next solar flight of the spacecraft. The flight took place on March 26, when the orbiter flew about 48 million kilometers from the Sun, which is closer than Mercury.

“It’s amazing that such data already exists,” said solar system physicist David Bergmans of the Royal Belgian Observatory in Brussels.

Observations show a feature nicknamed the hedgehog because of its spikes of darker, cooler gas on hotter material. “It’s cool here relatively as far as the 1 million degree background is concerned [plasma]”- says Bergmans, chief researcher of Extreme Ultraviolet Imager orbiter. Scientists do not know what causes this feature, but believe it is due long thin jets of solar material called spicules (CH: 11/14/19).

animated .gif showing the X-ray flash at the edge of the Sun and the shock wave created by the flash
On March 21, Solar Orbiter discovered an X-ray flare (marked in red and blue) at the edge of the Sun. The spacecraft’s ultraviolet device also recorded a shock wave (shown as green material moving outward) formed by the flash.EUI and STIX / Solar Orbiter / ESA and NASA teams

A few days before spying on a 25,000-kilometer-wide hedgehog, four Solar Orbiter devices detected an X-ray flash and observed how it affected nearby space. That’s why the spacecraft was built, says Bergmans.

The focus of the spacecraft is “communications science,” he says. Solar Orbiter devices detected a solar flare, a shock wave created by it and an explosion of charged particles and radio signals – one after another – within hours. Previously, various telescopes detected them individually for several days.

By linking the sequence of events to “complete history,” Bergmans says, scientists can better predict the outflow of those charged particles that are especially dangerous to astronauts, satellites and even high-flying aircraft.

The spacecraft will pass close to the Sun about every five to six months until 2026. Then, for another three years, the orbiter will approach the solar poles, providing scientists with the first frontal views of these regions.

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