The European Solar Orbiter, which is headed for its closest approach to the Sun this month, has beamed back one of the most detailed images ever taken of the brightest star in our solar system. The latest image, a composite of 25 different images captured on March 7, shows the sun in unprecedented detail.

The image was captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) onboard the European spacecraft showing the Sun’s full disc and outer atmosphere, the corona, in high resolution. Another image taken by the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument is the first of its kind image in 50 years.

The images were taken when the Solar Orbiter was at a distance of roughly 75 million kilometers, halfway between our world and its parent star. The European Space Agency in a statement said that taken one after the other, the full image was captured over a period of more than four hours because each tile takes about 10 minutes, including the time for the spacecraft to point from one segment to the next.

The high-resolution telescope of EUI takes pictures of such high spatial resolution that, at that close distance, a mosaic of 25 individual images is needed to cover the entire Sun. The agency said that in total the final image contains more than 83 million pixels in a 9148 x 9112 pixel grid, making it ten times better than what a 4K TV screen can display.

The image which shows the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, has a temperature of around a million degrees Celsius. Apart from snapping the Sun, the instruments on board were also gathering data, tracing the layers in the Sun’s atmosphere from the corona, down to a layer known as the chromosphere, getting closer to the surface.

“And this is just the start, over the coming years the spacecraft will repeatedly fly this close to the Sun. It will also gradually raise its orientation to view the Sun’s previously unobserved polar regions,” ESA said.

The European Solar Orbiter is currently inside the orbit of Mercury as it preps for its closest approach to the Sun on March 26. The probe will study the constant stream of particles known as the solar wind that affects the environment in the vacuum of space. When the Solar Orbiter arrives at its new destination on March 26, it will be less than one-third of the distance from the Sun to the Earth.


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