The European Space Agency and NASA's Solar Orbiter is yet to begin its proper scientific mission, but as it swishes around the Sun, it has been using its instruments to do some checks. As it did, they captured some pretty stunning examples of coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
These CMEs are large releases of plasma from the solar corona, often following solar flares. These affect the space weather throughout the solar system and can cause geomagnetic storms. On February 10, 2021, the spacecraft was at its closest to the Sun, roughly half the distance between the Earth and our star. An excellent opportunity to do some more science checks on the instruments.
The Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI), the Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI), and the Metis coronagraph were used to look at the Sun and captured different aspects of not one but two CMEs that were released on that particular day.
“We've realized in the last 25 years that there's a lot that happens to a CME between the surface of the Sun and Earth,” Robin Colaninno, principal investigator for SoloHI at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “So we're hoping to get much better resolution images of all of these outflows by being closer to the Sun.”
These CMEs were also seen from other spacecraft distributed around the Sun, giving scientists a multiangled view of these events. The observations really are hinting at the shape of things to come when the science mission begins in full later this year.
The EUI also captured a pretty spectacular CME last November, again highlighting just how powerful this spacecraft will be.