Closest ever images of the sun reveal potential mini-explosions

Images taken by the Solar Orbiter spacecraft show "campfires" on the sun.

Alexandra Garrett Associate Editor
Alexandra is an associate editor on CNET's Performance Optimization team. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, and interned with CNET's Tech and News teams while in school. Prior to joining CNET full time, Alexandra was a breaking news fellow at Newsweek, where she covered current events and politics.
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The first images from NASA and ESA's Solar Orbiter are offering us the "closest ever" look at the sun

"These unprecedented pictures of the sun are the closest we have ever obtained," said Holly Gilbert, NASA project scientist, in a release on Thursday. "These amazing images will help scientists piece together the sun's atmospheric layers, which is important for understanding how it drives space weather near the Earth and throughout the solar system."

Some of the images revealed what scientists are calling "campfires" dotting the sun.

"The campfires we are talking about here are the little nephews of solar flares, at least a million, perhaps a billion times smaller," said David Berghmans, principal investigator and astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. "When looking at the new high resolution EUI images, they are literally everywhere we look."

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Scientists speculate that theses fires are mini-explosions heating the sun's outer atmosphere, called nanoflares. Hoping to know for sure, NASA and ESA scientists are awaiting more precise data from the Solar Orbiter in the future, when the spacecraft is closer to the sun.

The Solar Orbiter is a collaboration between NASA and ESA that aims to study the mysteries of the sun. The mission launched earlier this year and only finished its first pass of the sun in June.

"We didn't expect such great results so early," said Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter project scientist, in a statement. "These images show that Solar Orbiter is off to an excellent start."