Few probes have ever come closer to the sun – and none of them have been able to provide such extraordinary data as Solar Orbiter is now broadcasting.

At the end of March, the Solar Orbiter probe sent spectacular measurement data in unprecedented detail from its closest flyby to the sun.

The first images have now been published and show the outer, hot atmosphere of the sun, the corona, with plasma streams hotter than one million degrees, as reported by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen.

On March 26, the probe passed the sun at a distance of only about 48 million kilometers. That corresponds to less than a third of the distance between the earth and the sun and marks a preliminary high point of the mission, it said. “Only three space probes have ever approached the sun – none of them with imaging instruments that look at the sun,” writes the MPS.

Solar Orbiter uses six scientific instruments to look at the Sun’s surface, atmosphere and surroundings. Four other instruments measure the particles and electromagnetic fields flowing around the spacecraft. The mission is managed by the European space agency Esa.

In the days surrounding the most recent flyby, all instruments were in operation, according to the MPS, which is involved in four of Solar Orbiter’s instruments and in evaluating the data.

Due to the currently large distance between the space probe and the earth, however, the data transmission rate is currently low. So far, only part of the measurement data recorded has reached Earth, which was sighted by the scientific teams. Further data are still awaited.