A new era of research and discovery awaits solar physicists all over the world as two new spacecraft and the newly opened world’s largest ground-based solar observatory are all set to take our understanding of our Sun to a whole new level.
The first of the spacecraft NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was launched on August 12, 2018, and is on its way to meet our home star. Parker Solar Probe will approach the blazing star within just 4 percent of the Earth-sun distance, making it the closest mission ever humanity has sent.
European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Solar Orbiter mission, the next spacecraft, is scheduled to lift off on February 7, this year. ESA’s mission hopes to capture highly detailed images of the sun, including the very first pictures of its poles.
To mark what is in store for us in the coming future, today, scientists have released inaugural images of the sun taken by new four-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on Maui in Hawaii. The facility which is run by the National Science Foundation in the US has captured the most detailed images of the solar surface ever taken.
“It’s extremely exciting to be a solar physicist at this point in time, with all of these missions,” says Thomas Rimmele, an astronomer and project director of DKIST at the National Solar Observatory. “With just the first images [from DKIST], you see the detail that we’ve never seen before. And this is really just the beginning.”
DKIST’s instruments are designed to both images the sun and probe its magnetic field, allowing scientists to discern the field’s strength and orientation. Scientists hope to use these data to find clues about the long-standing mystery of why the sun’s corona is way hotter than its surface. DKIST data will also be used to probe the magnetic fields of the vast structures that arc and loop between the Sun’s corona and its surface.
Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter will work to complement the images taken by DKIST. They will repeatedly fly close to the sun over the next five years. NASA’s satellite will be measuring material ejected from our star, and it is already said to be providing invaluable data from its early passes. ESA’s Solar Orbiter has the capability to directly image the sun from a close-up vantage point.
The researchers are expecting great progress in Solar research through all these missions. They believe by studying the data collected via these missions will help analyze Sun’s magnetic cycles, solar ejections and eventually even be able to predict the occurrence of space weather events connected with these ejections.