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 Strange Swirls on the Lunar Surface are Somehow Related to Topography

This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credits: NASA LRO WAC science team

The Moon is the most studied object in space. But our nearest neighbour still holds a few mysteries. One of those mysteries is the lunar swirls. These strange serpentine features are brighter than their surroundings and are much younger. They’re not associated with any specific composition of lunar rock, and they appear to overlay other surface features like craters and ejecta.

Scientists have been puzzling over the swirls for decades, and with lunar outposts looming as a real possibility, understanding these swirls takes on new importance. Now a new study finds a link between lunar topography and the swirls.

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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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Did the Earth’s Water Come From the Sun?

The sun, solar winds and asteroid Itokawa. Image Credit: Curtin University.

Where did Earth’s water come from? Comets may have brought some of it. Asteroids may have brought some. Icy planetesimals may have played a role by crashing into the young Earth and depositing their water. Hydrogen from inside the Earth may have contributed, too. Another hypothesis states the collision that formed the Moon gave Earth its water.

There’s evidence to back up all of these hypotheses.

But new research suggests that the Sun and its Solar Wind may have helped delivered some water, too.

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There are Particles of 4.5 Billion-Year-old Solar Wind Trapped Inside the Earth

Visualization of the solar wind encountering Earth's magnetic "defenses" known as the magnetosphere. Clouds of southward-pointing plasma are able to peel back layers of the Sun-facing bubble and stack them into layers on the planet's nightside (center, right). The layers can be squeezed tightly enough to reconnect and deliver solar electrons (yellow sparkles) directly into the upper atmosphere to create the aurora. Credit: JPL
Visualization of the solar wind encountering Earth's magnetic "defenses" known as the magnetosphere. Clouds of southward-pointing plasma are able to peel back layers of the Sun-facing bubble and stack them into layers on the planet's nightside (center, right). The layers can be squeezed tightly enough to reconnect and deliver solar electrons (yellow sparkles) directly into the upper atmosphere to create the aurora. Credit: JPL

Scientists have found the unmistakable presence of certain isotopes in an iron meteorite. Since these meteorites are thought to leftover bits of planetary cores, similar isotopes must be in the Earth’s own core. And the only place to get those isotopes is from the solar wind.

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Researchers Discover the Source of the Sun’s Most Dangerous High-Energy Particles

Sometimes the sun spits out high-energy particles which slam into the Earth, potentially disrupting our sensitive electronics. New research has found that these particles originate in the plasma of the sun itself, and are trapped there by strong magnetic fields. When those fields weaken, the particles blast out.

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The Earth’s Magnetosphere Might be Creating Water on the Moon

Artist’s depiction of the Moon in the magnetosphere, with “Earth wind” made up of flowing oxygen ions (gray) and hydrogen ions (bright blue), which can react with the lunar surface to create water. The Moon spends >75% of its orbit in the solar wind (yellow), which is blocked by the magnetosphere the rest of the time. Credit: E. Masongsong, UCLA EPSS, NASA GSFC SVS.

There’s no doubt that the Moon has water on its surface. Orbiters have spotted deposits of ice persisting in the perpetual shadows of polar craters. And recent research shows that water exists in sunlit parts of the Moon, too.

Over the years, scientists have presented evidence that the Moon’s water came from comets, from asteroids, from inside the Moon, and even from the Sun.

But now new research is pointing the finger directly at Earth as the source of some of the Moon’s water.

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Venus Held Onto its Water Surprisingly Well During its History

Artist's impression of Venus with the solar wind flowing around the planet, which has little magnetic protection. Venus Express found that a lot of water has bled into space over the years from the planet, which happens when the sun's ultraviolet radiation breaks oxygen and hydrogen molecules apart and pushes them into space. Credit: ESA - C. Carreau

Named for the ancient goddess of fertility, the planet Venus could not be more hostile to life as we know it. Aside from being the hottest planet in the Solar System, Venus has also an atmosphere that is 92 times denser than Earth’s, and regularly experiences sulfuric acid rain. But as we’ve learned from multiple surveys, Venus was once a much milder climate and even had vast oceans on its surface.

For astronomers and geologists alike, the burning question is, how much of its water did Venus hold onto during this massive transition? According to research presented by Moa Persson of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), Venus actually retained most of its water over the past 4 billion years. Contrary to what researchers previously thought, Venus lost only a small amount of its water to a runaway Greenhouse Effect.

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This is What the Solar System Really Looks Like

An updated model suggests the shape of the Sun’s bubble of influence, the heliosphere (seen in yellow), may be a deflated croissant shape, rather than the long-tailed comet shape suggested by other research. Credits: Opher, et al

At first glance, it looks like something from an alien autopsy. A strange organ cut from a xenomorph’s thorax, under the flickering lights of an operating room in a top secret government facility, with venous tendrils dangling down to the floor, dripping viscous slime. (X-Com anyone?)

But no, it’s just our Solar System.

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