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ESA's Solar Orbiter records a mysterious magnetic switchback

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft has captured the reversal of the Sun’s magnetic field on camera for the first time.

These reversals, also called magnetic switchbacks, have been previously hypothesized, but have not been directly observed so far.

The new observation provides a complete picture of the structure and confirms that magnetic hairpin bends have an S-shaped character.

ESA hopes the images will help unravel the mystery of how their physical formation mechanism could accelerate solar winds.

The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter spacecraft has captured the reversal of the Sun's magnetic field on camera for the first time.  Known as magnetic switchbacks, these reversals were previously hypothesized, but have not been directly observed so far

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft has captured the reversal of the Sun’s magnetic field on camera for the first time. Known as magnetic switchbacks, these reversals were previously hypothesized, but have not been directly observed so far

What is a magnetic switchback?

A magnetic switchback is a sudden and large deflection of the solar wind’s magnetic field.

In the study, the researchers showed that switchbacks occur when there is an interaction between an area of ​​open field lines and an area of ​​closed field lines.

When the field lines meet, they reconnect with more stable configurations.

And just like cracking a whip, energy is released, creating an S-shaped jam.

A number of spacecraft — including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — have flown through magnetic hairpins before, but were unable to capture the puzzling regions.

However, on March 25, 2022, Solar Orbiter was only a day away from a brief passage from the sun when its Metis instrument captured an unusual image of the solar corona.

The image showed a distorted S-shaped kink in the coronal plasma, which looked suspiciously like a solar switchback.

The Metis image was taken in visible light, so the researchers decided to compare it to an image taken by Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager instrument.

This comparison confirmed the candidate switchback over an active region cataloged as AR 12972.

Further analysis of the Metis data showed that the plasma velocity over this region was very low – as would be expected from an active region that has yet to release its stored energy.

Daniele Telloni, who led the study, immediately thought that this resembled a switchback mechanism proposed by Professor Gary Zank of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Near the sun there are open and closed magnetic field lines.

Closed lines are magnetic loops that rise in the solar atmosphere before spinning and disappearing back into the sun.

Above these field lines, very little plasma can escape into space, and so the speed of the solar winds here is usually low.

On March 25, 2022, Solar Orbiter was just a day away from a brief passage from the sun when its Metis instrument captured an unusual image of the solar corona.

On March 25, 2022, Solar Orbiter was just a day away from a brief passage from the sun when its Metis instrument captured an unusual image of the solar corona.

On March 25, 2022, Solar Orbiter was just a day away from a brief passage from the sun when its Metis instrument captured an unusual image of the solar corona.

In the study, the researchers showed that switchbacks occur when there is an interaction between an area of ​​open field lines and an area of ​​closed field lines.  When the field lines meet, they reconnect with more stable configurations.  And just like cracking a whip, energy is released, creating an S-shaped disturbance

In the study, the researchers showed that switchbacks occur when there is an interaction between an area of ​​open field lines and an area of ​​closed field lines.  When the field lines meet, they reconnect with more stable configurations.  And just like cracking a whip, energy is released, creating an S-shaped disturbance

In the study, the researchers showed that switchbacks occur when there is an interaction between an area of ​​open field lines and an area of ​​closed field lines. When the field lines meet, they reconnect with more stable configurations. And just like cracking a whip, energy is released, creating an S-shaped disturbance

In contrast, open field lines originate from the sun and connect them to the interplanetary magnetic field of the solar system.

Here plasma can flow freely, giving rise to fast solar winds.

In the study, the researchers showed that switchbacks occur when there is an interaction between an area of ​​open field lines and an area of ​​closed field lines.

When the field lines meet, they reconnect with more stable configurations.

And like a cracking whip, this releases energy, creating an S-shaped disturbance.

Professor Zank said: ‘The first image of Metis Daniele showed me almost immediately suggested the cartoons we had drawn developing the mathematical model for a switchback.

“Of course, the first image was just a snapshot and we had to temper our enthusiasm until we used the excellent Metis coverage to extract temporal information and do a more detailed spectral analysis of the images themselves. The results turned out to be nothing short of spectacular!’

The researchers hope the findings will help unravel the mystery of how solar winds are accelerated and heated away from the sun.

“The next step is to try to statistically link hairpin bends observed in situ to their source areas on the sun,” said Ms Telloni.

The images were taken during the Solar Orbiter’s first-ever close-pass to the sun, and ESA hopes further orbits can provide even more data.

Daniel Muller, ESA project scientist for Solar Orbiter, adds: ‘With each orbit, we get more data from our array of ten instruments.

“Based on results such as these, we will refine the observations planned for Solar Orbiter’s next solar encounter to gain insight into how the sun connects to the wider magnetic environment of the solar system.

“This was Solar Orbiter’s first-ever close pass to the sun, so we expect many more exciting results to follow.”

ESA’S SOLAR ORBITER: BRITISH BUILT SPACE WILL BE THE FIRST IMAGES OF THE SUN’S POLAR LANDS

Solar Orbiter is a mission of the European Space Agency with support from NASA to explore the sun and the effect our host star has on the solar system, including Earth.

Solar Orbiter (artist's impression) is a mission of the European Space Agency to investigate the sun and its effect on the solar system.  Launch is scheduled for 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA

Solar Orbiter (artist's impression) is a mission of the European Space Agency to investigate the sun and its effect on the solar system.  Launch is scheduled for 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA

Solar Orbiter (artist’s impression) is a mission of the European Space Agency to investigate the sun and its effect on the solar system. Launch is scheduled for 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA

The satellite launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in February 2020 and made its first close approach to the sun in June 2020.

It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments.

Solar Orbiter will fly within 26 million miles (43 million km) of the solar surface to closely inspect our star’s poles.

Scientists are investigating how the violent outer atmosphere of the sun, also known as corona, arises.

It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments

It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments

It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments

This is the area from which ‘solar winds’ – storms of charged particles that can disrupt electronics on Earth – are blown into space.

With Solar Orbiter, researchers hope to unravel what causes solar storms in order to better predict them in the future.

The Solar Orbiter’s heat shields are expected to reach temperatures of up to 600C (1,112F) during its closest flybys.

It will work closely with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in August 2018, and also studies the Sun’s corona.