Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, ESA, Heliophysics, NASA
For new Sun-watching spacecraft, the first solar eruption is always special.
On February 12, 2021, a little more than a year from its launch, the European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar Orbiter caught sight of this coronal mass ejection, or CME. This view is from the mission’s SoloHI instrument — short for Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager — which watches the solar wind, dust, and cosmic rays that fill the space between the Sun and the planets.
It’s a brief, grainy view: Solar Orbiter’s remote sensing won’t enter full science mode until November. SoloHI used one of its four detectors at less than 15% of its normal cadence to reduce the amount of data acquired. Still, a keen eye can spot the sudden blast of particles, the CME, escaping the Sun, which is off camera to the upper right. The CME starts about halfway through the video as a bright burst – the dense leading edge of the CME – and drifts off screen to the left.
For SoloHI, catching this CME was a happy accident. At the time the eruption reached the spacecraft, Solar Orbiter had just passed behind the Sun from Earth’s perspective and was coming back around the other side. When the mission was being planned, the team wasn’t expecting to be able to record any data during that time.
A New Space Instrument Captures Its First Solar Eruption, Miles Hatfield, NASA