See The Breathtaking Highest Resolution Ever Photos Of The Sun’s South Pole (And A Weird ‘Solar Hedgehog’)

In the wake of its jaw-dropping 83-megapixel image of the Sun being published in April the Solar Orbiter spacecraft has sent back more incredible new images from its closest point yet to the Sun.

Some of the images are baffling solar scientists, who’ve never seen a star up close like this before.


They include a 4K image of the Sun’s south pole—the highest resolution we’ve ever seen—as well as images of a weird and unexplained phenomenon the scientists are calling a “solar hedgehog.”

When it took these images in late March 2022 the joint NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) mission was inside the orbit of Mercury and at its closest approach to the Sun. It was just 31% of the Earth-Sun distance from our star.

It got lucky. As well as experiencing several solar flares it even got to see close-up as a coronal mass ejection—a massive surge of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s outer atmosphere, its corona—came hurtling past it on its way to Earth.


Its heat-shield was reaching around 500°C—and its images are giving scientists new insights into our star’s magnetic behavior and how if affects the space weather that causes solar flares and aurora.

Scroll down for some truly incredible photos, gifs and videos of our star like you’ve never seen it before!

The Sun’s south pole in 4K

The main image at the top of this article (and the video above) is of the Sun’s south pole. It shows lighter areas created by loops of magnetism and darker areas where the Sun’s magnetic field lies open and where gasses escape to form the solar wind.


The poles are mysterious parts of the Sun that are thought to seed solar activity. Our star’s magnetic fields get swept up to the poles before being swallowed back down into the Sun.

There’s much more to come of the Sun’s polar regions. In February 2025 the spacecraft will flyby Venus, getting a gravity assist to fling it into an inclined orbit of the Sun. It will repeat that manoeuvre in December 2025, which will further incline its orbit—and so will being its “high-latitude” mission during which we’ll see many extraordinary top-down images of our star’s polar regions.

It’s hoped that this part of the mission will solve the mystery of why the Sun appears to have a roughly 11 year cycle during which it waxes to “solar maximum” and wanes to “solar minimum.”

The Sun’s solar maximum is predicted to occur during 2025, so Solar Orbiter will have a ringside seat to watch it peak and trough.


The ‘Solar Hedgehog’ mystery

This image, above (and video), is what the Solar Orbiter scientists are calling a “solar hedgehog.” You can see why by looking at the bottom of the image, though scientists aren’t sure what’s going on. About 15,500 miles/25,000 kilometers long, this “solar hedgehog” is twice the diameter of the Earth and has spikes of hot and cooler gas spraying in all directions.

The image comes from Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument, which takes high-resolution images of the Sun’s corona. This region is mysteriously hotter than the surface of the Sun and it’s also where most of the solar activity that drives space weather takes place.

“The images are really breathtaking,” says David Berghmans at the Royal Observatory of Belgium and the Principal Investigator (PI) of the EUI. “Even if Solar Obiter stopped taking data tomorrow, I would be busy for years trying to figure all this stuff out.”


The Sun’s ‘coronal rain’ and coronal moss’

Above is an image of the same region of the Sun using two different instruments that solar scientists can interpret. It shows an active region where the Sun’s magnetic field bursts out from its interior in coronal loops that rise into the atmosphere. Hot gas flows through the loops you can see, cooling as it falls back as “coronal rain.”

In the black and white image you can also see bright gas making lace-like patterns across the Sun, which scientists call “coronal moss.” These are the footpoints of large coronal loops.

What is ‘Solar Orbiter?’


Launched in early 2020, Solar Orbiter has a suite of 10 different scientific instruments that are making a lot of observations for the very first time.

They include the first telescope observations from close to the Sun, the first images of the north and south poles of the Sun and the first full observation of the solar wind.

Its main science goal is to explore the connection between the Sun and the heliosphere—the large ‘bubble’ of space that extends beyond the planets of our Solar System and is considered the sphere of influence of our Sun

What will ‘Solar Orbiter’ do next in 2022?

It’s in an orbital resonance with Venus, so is using the planet routinely to alter its trajectory. Its next flyby of Venus is on September 4, 2022.


Then on October 13, 2022 the spacecraft will fly even closer to the Sun—just 29% of the Earth-Sun distance.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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