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Video Extra: Closest pictures ever taken of the Sun

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 16:00:55-04

The European Space Agency and NASA released on Thursday (July 16) the first images of their joint Sun-observing mission, the Solar Orbiter.

The pictures, taken at an approximate distance of 77 million kilometres away from the Sun, revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed 'campfires', near the surface of the Sun.

They are the first images taken of the star's surface from a closer distance, and it remains unclear whether the so-called 'campfires' are tiny versions of big flares or whether they are driven by different mechanisms.

The Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020.

It carries six remote-sensing instruments, or telescopes, to picture the Sun and its surroundings, and four instruments aimed at monitoring the environment around the spacecraft.

By comparing the data from both sets of instruments, scientists hope to get insights into the generation of solar wind, that is, the stream of charged particles coming from the Sun that influences the entire Solar System.

"This is not as close as we will eventually get. Our closest approach will be just over a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth and we will reach that in about two years time," promised Daniel Mueller, the ESA's Solar Orbiter Project scientist.