This is the first spectrum captured on 21 April 2020 by the Spectral Investigation of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument on ESA’s Solar Orbiter. Taken at extreme-ultraviolet wavelengths, this is the first glimpse from SPICE of data that will give us measurements of the flows of plasma, its composition and temperature in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, which will help us unravel the origin of the solar wind.
The image on the left shows the distribution of emission from electrically charged carbon atoms, known as ions, for this region of the Sun’s atmosphere, where the temperatures is 50 000 K. The image was taken in the ultraviolet wavelength of 97.7 nm. The pattern is created by the underlying network of invisible magnetic fields; the bright emission is concentrated above stronger magnetic fields which heat the ions.
Th graphs on the right shows the spectrum. At these extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, the lines show a wide range of ionized atoms including hydrogen, carbon, neon, oxygen and iron which can be identified from their unique ‘fingerprint’ in the spectrum. They are formed at temperatures from 10,000 to one million Kelvin, covering different layers of the solar atmosphere. SPICE can record all spectral lines simultaneously at rates as fast as every 5 seconds, which will help monitor rapidly evolving solar features.
“We are delighted to see the first spectra and images from SPICE. They promise to solve the outstanding questions about the dynamical processes and composition of the Sun’s atmosphere. Spectroscopy is a powerful tool. Each spectral line gives us a piece of the puzzle – combining information from all lines reveals the amazing complexity of the atmosphere,” says Andrzej Fludra, the SPICE Instrument Consortium lead and a Co-Principal Investigator from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space.