ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft captures Sun’s surprising activity surge

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft released two images of the sun on February 13, 2024, which show how the sun’s activity increases over time as it approaches its solar maximum.

ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft captures the Sun's surprising activity surge between February 2021 and October 2023
ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft captures the Sun’s surprising activity surge between February 2021 and October 2023. (Image credit: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team)

Our sun’s magnetic field changes over time, and it takes around 11 years to flip the sun’s magnetic field completely. That means its north and south poles switch places every 11 years, which is called a solar cycle.

At the beginning and end of the cycle (the solar minimum), we see minimum solar activity, which means fewer sunspots, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, etc.

At the middle of the cycle (solar maximum), when the magnetic field flips, we see maximum solar activity, which means most sunspots, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, etc.

The image that the Solar Orbiter spacecraft captured in February 2021 shows less solar activity as the current solar cycle started in December 2019.

However, the other image that the Solar Orbiter spacecraft captured in October 2023 shows a striking increase in solar activity, as the current solar cycle is expected to peak in 2025.

See the current solar activity progression graph from the Space Weather Prediction Center.

The study of solar activity is important because it has serious effects on the earth. Extreme solar eruptions can trigger radio blackouts around the world, damage ground-based electricity grids, disable earth-orbiting satellites, etc.

ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft, which was launched in February 2020, helps us predict the timing and strength of solar cycles.

The Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument captured the above images, which show the upper atmosphere of the sun called the corona.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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