ESA releases intense photo of sun as solar maximum nears

Web Desk
February 22, 2024

Astronomers have crafted visualisation depicting the sun's transformation from Feb 2021 to Oct 2023

Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument on ESA's Solar Orbiter captures how the sun has changed between February 2021 and October 2023, showing an increased activity rate leading up to solar maximum. (Image credit: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team

As the sun hurtles towards its solar maximum this year, a compelling visualisation from the European Space Agency (ESA) captures the escalating tumult on the sun's surface.

The solar maximum, occurring approximately every 11 years, marks a pinnacle in solar activity, driven by the sun's dynamic and ever-shifting magnetic fields. This period sees a surge in the frequency and intensity of sunspots on the solar surface.

Utilising imagery from the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument on ESA's Solar Orbiter, astronomers have meticulously crafted a visualisation depicting the sun's transformation from February 2021 to October 2023.

The imagery reveals brilliant explosions, dark sunspots, and mesmerising loops of plasma and super-hot gas as the sun propels towards its magnetic activity peak.

Two views of the sun as seen by ESA's solar orbiter; one in February 2021 (left), and another in October 2023 (right). —ESA & NASA

Solar cycle 25, the ongoing cycle, is anticipated to reach its climax in mid-to-late 2024, a year earlier than initial estimates.

The solar minimum, characterised by reduced solar activity, occurred in December 2019, just preceding the launch of Solar Orbiter.

ESA officials explain the cyclical nature of solar activity, stating, "At the beginning of this cycle (the solar minimum), there is relatively little activity and few sunspots."

The activity steadily intensifies until reaching its zenith during the solar maximum, eventually subsiding to a minimum.

Comparing images from February 2021 to October 2023, the visualisation vividly illustrates the sun's transition from relative calmness to heightened activity during Solar Orbiter's close approach.

Solar cycle 25 has exhibited vigorous activity, featuring robust solar flares and coronal mass ejections, powerful enough to impact Earth's electric power grids, GPS, and satellites, potentially causing radio blackouts.

Following the solar maximum, the sun's magnetic poles reverse, initiating a minimum solar tranquillity period.

While the Solar Orbiter aids in predicting solar cycles, confirmation of the maximum awaits the observation of a decrease in sunspot numbers.


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