Solar orbiter’s first science data shows the sun at its quietest

Posted: October 1, 2020 by oldbrew in Cycles, data, research, Solar physics

Quiet sun [image credit: NASA]

They picked an interesting time to study the Sun, as it starts to emerge from an unusually deep and long-lasting solar minimum. What effect this might have on Earth’s weather systems of course remains to be seen, but could be hard to quantify. The researchers have a lot of data to work through, and are hoping for ‘unprecedented insights into the sun’.
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Three of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft’s instruments, including Imperial’s magnetometer, have released their first data, reports

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft launched in February 2020 on its mission to study the sun and it began collecting science data in June.

Now, three of its ten instruments have released their first tranche of data, revealing the state of the sun in a ‘quiet’ phase.

The sun is known to follow an 11-year cycle of sunspot activity and is currently almost completely free of sunspots.

This is expected to change over the coming years as sunspot activity ramps up, causing the sun to become more active and raising the chances of adverse ‘space weather’ events, where the sun releases huge amounts of material and energy in solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

The sun’s activity is closely linked to the state of its magnetic field, and this is measured by Imperial’s instrument aboard Solar Orbiter, the magnetometer (MAG). Since June, MAG has recorded hundreds of millions of ‘vectors’ – measurements of the direction and strength of the sun’s magnetic field.

Solar Orbiter has already flown inside the orbit of Venus, collecting some of the closest data to the sun so far, and will get progressively closer in the coming years. It is currently orbiting close to the equator of the sun, which in times of high activity would show a very warped magnetic field.

Currently, however, the sun’s magnetic ‘equator’ is lying very flat to the true equator, allowing the spacecraft to observe fields from the Northern magnetic hemisphere for weeks on end, when just a few degrees north of the equator.

Near times of high solar activity, when the sun’s magnetic equator is more warped, it is not possible to see a single polarity of magnetic field for so long.

Solar wind structure

The MAG has also observed waves caused by protons and electrons streaming from the sun. Further out, near the Earth, these particles are distributed more evenly in the bulk solar wind of charged particles streaming from the sun, but at Solar Orbiter there are also ‘beams’ protons and electrons coming from the sun.

There appears to much more structure in the solar wind closer to the sun, and this is further shown by MAG confirming the presence of ‘switchbacks’ – dramatic folds in the solar wind first recorded by the Parker Solar Probe, a NASA mission launched in 2018.

Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe will work together over the coming years to compare data on the same phenomena at different distances and orbits around the sun as it wakes up and enters the next phase of its sunspot cycle.

Full report here.

  1. u.k.(us) says:

    Ya know She’s got all kinds of tricks up Her sleeve.
    It keeps men on their toes.

  2. peterandnen says:

    The sun has a variable output? We need laws to bring this to net zero by 2035!

  3. Phoenix44 says:

    What I find somewhat unlikely is the claim that the sun goes through all these significant visual and other changes but its main output varies very little. It seems like a lot of effort for not much!

  4. oldbrew says:

    In case we forgot:

    The Sun emits radiation right across the electromagnetic spectrum, from extremely high-energy X-rays to ultra-long-wavelength radio waves, and everything in-between. The peak of this emission occurs in the visible portion of the spectrum.
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    The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
    Global climate change, including long-term periods of global cold, rainfall, drought, and other weather shifts, may also be influenced by solar cycle activity.

  5. edwardt says:

    The sun certainly doesn’t cause 3c transients that vary in intensity and timing with the sun, and couldn’t possibly result in a 0.1c increase per decade. Ask any climate scientist.

  6. Tom Williams says:

    60 Minutes did a spot with Climate cult master Hansen last night. The claim was made that the sun has been decreasing in power since 1970, while the earth has been warming (due to a trace gas?).
    The Sun appears top have been operating in cycles as do the ocean currents and heat from the
    Earth’s core.

  7. Tom Williams says:

    60 Minutes should let Old Brew & Tall Bloke to have their turn. This was like Pravda or Izvestia from the Cold War. Hansen asserted that (sic) “man made climate change is as proven as gravity…”. No interviews from any different opinions.

  8. As far as I read , the sunspots disappearing means blocking the up flow of heat from the sun’s interior, means no strong magnetic field exists, and what is that indicating! no clue .. waiting for the other data to be analyzed, it may refer to a serious features. Thanks for sharing.