Closer than ever to the Sun: a European ship passes 77 million kilometers from the star

The European Solar Orbiter probe, launched last February, survived its first close encounter with the Sun on June 15, passing 77 million kilometers from its surface, half the distance that separates the star from our planet. During the week after this first perihelion (the position closest to the center of the orbit), mission operators will review the operation of a dozen scientific tools carried by the spacecraft, reports the European Space Agency (ESA).  Approximately the same time will be necessary to download, through an antenna located in the Argentine province of Mendoza, the images taken at that tense moment from the satellite.

The Solar Orbiter is not the closest spacecraft to the Sun, since NASA’s Parker Solar Probe probe , launched in 2018, is already in its outer corona. However, the American apparatus does not have telescopes that allow us to look directly at the star, something that the European mission does highlight. “Our ultraviolet telescopes scanning have the same spatial resolution as those of the Observatory Solar Dynamics (SDO) of NASA , taking high – resolution images of the Sun from a close orbit to Earth”, compared the scientist Daniel Müller mission. “Because we are currently half the distance from the Sun, our images are twice the resolution of SDO during this perihelion.”

The European orbiter weighs just under two tons and has a maximum dimension of 3 meters, not counting its solar panels. Its ten tools seek to provide an answer to how the solar wind arises and accelerates and what is the origin of the magnetic field, which determines the perceivable cycles of solar activity on our planet, in addition to other scientific questions.