The flyby of Mercury near the Sun will help to better tune the instruments of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft.
The Solar Orbiter was able to see how the first planet from the Sun moves next to our star. A close flyby of Mercury allowed the European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft to get a better view of the Sun, writes Space.
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The passage of any planet against the background of its parent star is called a planetary transit. At once, several instruments of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft were able to photograph such a transit of Mercury against the background of the Sun. From these images, the scientists created several short videos.In the resulting images, Mercury appears as a black disk that moves against the background at the lower right side of the Sun. And this tiny black spot is vastly different from the dark sunspots seen much higher up in the Sun. These are the regions on a star where the famous solar flares are born and coronal mass ejections occur, that is, energy and plasma emissions into space. The smallest planet in the solar system is especially visible in the images after it left the solar disk and became visible against the background of gaseous structures in the star’s atmosphere.
Thanks to the transit of Mercury, one of the Solar Orbiter instruments called SPICE was able to get the best view of the Sun. This instrument is designed to separate sunlight into its constituent colors, and in this way it can identify atoms in different layers of a star, as they exist at different temperatures.
According to scientists from the ESA, thanks to the new images, they received not only new images of Mercury, most importantly, they managed to see the transit of the planet against the background of various layers of the Sun’s atmosphere. Thus, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft will be able to better tune its instruments for further observations of the star. Scientists believe that by studying this transit of Mercury, it is possible to improve the quality of data on the Sun itself, which is collected by the ESA spacecraft.