Astronomers Watched a “Near-Sun” Comet Disintegrate as it Flew too Close to the Sun

Near-Sun object 323P/SOHO observed by the Subaru Telescope on December 21, 2020 (left) and CFHT on February 11, 2021 (right). 323P/SOHO on its way to perihelion is seen as a point source in the center of the left image; after the perihelion, the comet has developed a long narrow tail as seen in the right image. (Credit: Subaru Telescope/CFHT/Man-To Hui/David Tholen)

Comets that venture close to the Sun can transform into something beautiful, but sometimes they encounter incineration if they get too close. Of the various types of comets that orbit close to the Sun, astronomers had never seen the destruction of the type classified as “near-Sun” comets. But thanks to a variety of telescopes on summit of Mauna Kea in Hawai?i, scientists have now captured images of a periodic rocky near-Sun comet breaking apart. They say the disintegration of this comet could help explain the scarcity of such periodic near-Sun comets.

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Solar Orbiter’s Pictures of the Sun are Every Bit as Dramatic as You Were Hoping

This is one of the new images of the Sun from the ESA's Solar Orbiter's closest approach on March 26th, 2022. Image Credit: ESA

On March 26th, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter made its closest approach to the Sun so far. It ventured inside Mercury’s orbit and was about one-third the distance from Earth to the Sun. It was hot but worth it.

The Solar Orbiter’s primary mission is to understand the connection between the Sun and its heliosphere, and new images from the close approach are helping build that understanding.

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The Sun Didn't Have any Sunspots for 70 Years, now we Might Know why

The Sun as seen over the years. Credit: NASA

Sunspots are one of the ways we can measure the activity level of the Sun. Generally, the more sunspots we observe, the more active the Sun is. We’ve been tracking sunspots since the early 1600s, and we’ve long known that solar activity has an 11-year cycle of high and low activity. It’s an incredibly regular cycle. But from 1645 to 1715 that cycle was broken. During this time the Sun entered an extremely quiet period that has come to be known as the Maunder Minimum. In the deepest period of the minimum, only 50 sunspots were observed, when typically there would be tens of thousands. We’ve never observed such a long period of quiet since, and we have no idea why it occurred.

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Coronal Loops Might Not Be Loops At All

Coronal loops in the Sun's atmosphere
Coronal loops in the Sun's atmosphere

We’ve all seen the gorgeous images and videos of coronal loops. They’re curved magnetic forms that force brightly glowing plasma to travel along their path. They arch up above the Sun, sometimes for thousands of kilometres, before reconnecting with the Sun again.

But a new study says that some of what we’re seeing aren’t loops at all. Instead, they’re a type of optical illusion. Do we know the Sun as well as we think we do?

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A Colossal Flare Erupted From the Far Side of the Sun

Solar Orbiter captures giant solar eruption on February 15, 2022. Credit: ESA/NASA

Earlier this week the Sun erupted with a huge explosion, blasting solar particles millions of kilometers into space. The team for the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft says the blast is the largest solar prominence eruption ever observed in a single image together with the full solar disc.

Luckily for us here on Earth, the eruption on February 15, 2022 occurred on the farside of the Sun, the side facing away from our planet. But ESA and NASA predict geomagnetic storms are possible in the next few days as the active region on the Sun responsible for the blast turns toward us.

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During a Solar Flare, Dark Voids Move Down Towards the Sun. Now We Know Why

Solar flares are complex phenomena. They involve plasma, electromagnetic radiation across all wavelengths, activity in the Sun’s atmosphere layers, and particles travelling at near light speed. Spacecraft like NASA’s Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO) and the Parker Solar Probe shed new light on the Sun’s solar flares.

But it was a Japanese-led mission called Yohkoh that spotted an unusual solar flare in 1999. This flare displayed a downward flowing motion toward the Sun along with the normal outward flow. What caused it?

A team of researchers think they’ve figured it out.

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Parker Solar Probe Flies Through the Sun’s Outer Atmosphere for the First Time

Artist’s impression of Parker Solar Probe approaching the Alfvén critical surface, which marks the end of the solar atmosphere and the beginning of the solar wind. Parker Solar Probe’s crossing into this zone in April 2021 means the spacecraft has “touched the Sun” for the first time. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ben Smith

For the first time ever, a spacecraft has flown through the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The Parker Solar Probe passed through the out portion of the Sun’s corona in April of 2021, passing directly through streamers of solar plasma.

And by the way …. there’s video of what the spacecraft “saw.”

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This Incredible Photo of the Sun is Made up of 150,000 Individual Photographs

A 300 megapixel photo of our Sun, taken by using a specially modified telescope, compiling over 150,000 individual images. Credit and copyright: Andrew McCarthy.

You’re looking at a 300-megapixel photo of our Sun. Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy used a specially modified telescope, taking over 150,000 individual photos and combing them into this magnificent image.

“It took about 10 hours to stack all the data, and another 3-4 hours to get it from a raw stack to the final image,” McCarthy said via email.

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The First Images and Videos from the Double Venus Flyby

BepiColombo’s close-up image of Venus, taken by the spacecraft’s Monitoring Camera 3 on August 10, 2021. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM

Two spacecraft made historic flybys of Venus last week, and both sent back sci-fi-type views of the mysterious, cloud-shrouded planet.

The Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo spacecraft both used Venus for gravity assists within 33 hours of each other, capturing unique imagery and data during their encounters.

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