The NASA Solar Orbiter has created history after capturing the largest-ever solar eruption on camera. See how a solar storm brews.
The Solar Orbiter satellite has created history for NASA. On February 15, the Solar Orbiter took unprecedented images of a solar prominence or solar eruption that was millions of kilometres long. It is seen as string of fire attached to the Sun. The Solar Orbiter is a joint mission between NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) designed to obtain detailed information about the Sun and this time, it really hit the jackpot! This super-massive event called solar prominence is important not simply because it is an awesome spectacle, but also because it often results in the creation of highly-destructive coronal mass ejections (CME), which are a major cause of solar storms that hold massive destructive potential for Earth. This historic image is what would be considered as the building stage of a solar storm. It will also help scientists understand how a solar storm is created.
Solar prominence are essentially gaseous clouds above the surface of the Sun’s magnetic field. In the image captured, the Solar Orbiter witnessed a solar eruption bursting out of the Sun’s atmosphere and spreading millions of miles into space. Notably, this could have caused a gigantic solar storm on Earth but thankfully, it occurred on the far side of the Sun and not towards our planet. Therefore, there is no chance that the solar storm generated by this solar eruption will hit Earth. However, if the Sun had sent a solar storm of this magnitude towards Earth, it could potentially have caused major damage to satellites, Internet and electricity grids.
The Solar Orbiter does a historic first
“Other space telescopes such as the ESA/NASA SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] satellite frequently see solar activity like this, but either closer to the sun, or further out by means of an occulter, which blocks out the glare of the sun’s disk to enable detailed imagery of the corona itself,” said the ESA.
“Thus, the prominence observed by Solar Orbiter is the largest ever event of its kind to be captured in a single field of view together with the solar disk, opening up new possibilities to see how events like these connect to the solar disk for the first time. At the same time, SOHO can provide complementary views to even larger distances,” the European Space agency added.
This particular solar prominence reached out up to 3.5 million kilometers, which has never been observed before. This new discovery for both NASA and ESA will open further studies into solar storms and geomagnetic storms. Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020 and it started its mission in November 2021.
Solar Orbiter’s next close approach of the Sun will be on March 26, when it will be passing within 150 million kilometers of it, which will be another first.
This February’s calendar has lots of twos. There was 02-02-2022 and now 02-22-2022 – which some people are calling “Twosday.” To mark this day of duos, we bring you our list of things in the solar system that come in twos, or pairs.
1. Binary Asteroids – Sometimes Asteroids Come in Pairs
Asteroids don’t always fly solo. Some have a moon – or moonlet – orbiting the larger body. This is called a binary asteroid system. NASA has a spacecraft traveling to a near-Earth binary asteroid: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is heading to Didymos, which means “twin” in Greek (and explains the word “double” in the mission’s name). Didymos has a moonlet named Dimorphos. DART will impact Dimorphos nearly head-on to demonstrate a method of asteroid deflection.
DART’s target is NOT a threat to Earth. This asteroid system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future. No known asteroid larger than 460 feet (140 meters) in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years.
2. Double Craters
This image shows a remarkable double crater on Mars. Scientists think the craters must have formed simultaneously. Maybe Mars was hit by a double asteroid. Or it may have been impacted by an asteroid or comet that separated into two pieces before hitting the surface.
3. Kuiper Belt Objects – Strange, Faraway Worlds
The small Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth is the most distant and most primitive object ever explored by a spacecraft. It was discovered in 2014 by NASA’s New Horizons science team, using the Hubble Space Telescope. The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Arrokoth on Jan. 1, 2019, snapping images that showed a double-lobed object that looked like a partially flattened snowman. It’s also very red – even redder than Pluto. The object’s strange shape – unlike any other object visited so far – was the biggest surprise of the flyby.
4. Earth and Its Moon – Quite the Pair
The brightest and largest object in our night sky, the Moon makes Earth a more livable planet by moderating our home planet’s wobble as it spins on its axis, leading to a relatively stable climate. It also causes tides, creating a rhythm that has guided humans for thousands of years, and life in Earth’s oceans for much longer. The Moon was likely formed after a Mars-sized body collided with Earth several billion years ago.
5. Pluto and Charon – Double Planet
Pluto has five known moons: Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx. The largest of those moons, Charon, is about half the size of Pluto. That makes it the largest satellite relative to the planet it orbits in our solar system. It orbits Pluto at a distance of just 12,200 miles (19,640 kilometers). For comparison, our Moon is a quarter the size of Earth and 20 times farther away from Earth. Pluto and Charon are often referred to as a double planet. This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015.
6. Two Interstellar Travelers
NASA’s twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has gone before. Launched in 1977, each probe is much farther away from Earth and the Sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Voyager 2 entered interstellar space on November 5, 2018. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN.
7. Double Stars
Sirius is the brightest star in our sky. It’s nicknamed “the Dog Star” because it’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (“the Greater Dog” in English). The main reason Sirius is so bright is that it’s one of the closest stars to our Sun, at just 8.6 light-years away. Sirius is actually a binary star system, with a tiny, white dwarf companion (although you’d need a decent-sized telescope to see it). Sirius is super easy to locate: Just look for the constellation Orion. The three bright stars that make up Orion’s belt point downward, toward Sirius. (Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, and then they point *up* toward Sirius.) Bonus note: Voyager 2 spacecraft is actually headed in the direction of Sirius. It’ll pass within 4.3 light-years of the bright star in about 300,000 years.
8. A World With Two Suns
NASA’s Kepler mission discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one. The planet, called Kepler-16b, is the most “Tatooine-like” planet yet found in our galaxy and is depicted here in this artist’s concept with its two stars. (Tatooine is the name of Luke Skywalker’s home world in the science fiction movie “Star Wars.”) In this case, the planet is not thought to be habitable. It is a cold world, with a gaseous surface. NASA missions have since discovered at least a dozen other planets orbiting two suns.
9. Seeing Double
Nope, that’s not two images of the same moon. Saturn’s sibling moons, Rhea and Dione, appear to be side by side in this image captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken in visible light on Nov. 1, 2005, when Cassini was at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) from Rhea, the top image, and 800,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Dione.
10. Rovers on Mars
NASA has two rovers operating on Mars: Perseverance (Mars 2020), which just passed the one-year mark on the Red Planet; and Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), which landed Aug. 5, 2012. This isn’t the first time NASA has had two rovers on Mars. The twin Opportunity and Spirit rovers landed on Mars in 2004. Spirit lasted 20 times longer than its original design until its final communication to Earth in March 2010. Opportunity’s mission ended in February 2019.
Planets do not take much longer to form after stars have formed. For example, the Sun formed 4.6 billion years ago and the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. However, scientists now say it is not necessarily the only possibility. They say planets can form even if a star is nearing its death, long after the star was formed. Dying stars leading to the formation of planets is a completely new theory. If confirmed, this finding can change how we understand the functions of the universe and planetary evolution.
In our solar system, Earth and other planets did not take much time to form after the Sun originated first. Within a million years of the Sun’s birth, matter around it clumped into a protoplanetary disc. This disc, a gigantic pancake made of dust and gas with the Sun in the middle, is where planets were formed. But new stars, like the Sun in this case, aren’t the only stars with a disc of raw material rotating around them. Some old, dying stars, too, have these discs. For example, around binary stars — two stars that orbit each other — one of which is dying.
A study titled,“A population of transition disks around evolved stars: Fingerprints of planets”, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, says the second star’s gravitational pull may lead the expelled material from the dying star to form a new revolving disc. But that’s already known. What’s new is the possibility that a second generation of planets can form in the disc. The study says this is how planets are forming in one in 10 of these binary stars.
The study’s first author and KU Leuven astronomer Jacques Kluska said that they found a big cavity in the disc in 10 percent of the evolved binary stars with discs that they analysed. Kluska added that this indicated that something was floating nearby and had collected all the matter in the cavity’s vicinity.
This object most certainly could be a planet but astronomers aren’t sure yet. More research is likely to unfold the mystery.