A string of planets in our solar system sparkles in photos from 3 different sun probes


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spotted six different planets on June 7, 2020, with the sun out of frame to the left. (Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher)

Turns out sungazing is not the only thing NASA’s solar spacecraft do.

Three missions that focus on the activities of our nearest star — Parker Solar Probe, the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and Solar Orbiter (a partnership with the European Space Agency) — have captured some incredible images showing several worlds in our solar system.

These spacecraft are flying in different areas of our neighborhood on a quest to understand solar phenomena such as the extreme heat of the sun’s outer atmosphere, the distribution of dust in our solar system or the production of the solar wind — the constant stream of particles coming from our sun. But each spacecraft caught amazing views of planets that NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shared in a recent press release

Solar Orbiter 

This joint mission with ESA will eventually leave the plane of the solar system to study the sun’s poles. The spacecraft first transmitted test images in July 2020, about five months after its launch

On Nov. 18 came a particularly stunning image, when Solar Orbiter captured three planets in the same view. From left to right, you can see Venus (which appears exceedingly bright as the sun bounces off the planet’s clouds), Uranus, Earth and Mars. The sun is just out of the image view on the right-hand side of the frame. 

Solar Orbiter was roughly 155.7 million miles (250.6 million kilometers) away from Earth when the data was transmitted, which is a little less than twice the distance from the sun to Earth, or two astronomical units (AU). A single AU is roughly 93 million miles (150 million km). 

Parker Solar Probe 

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will fly closer to the sun than any other spacecraft to date as it tries to capture the “origin story” of the solar wind. In this incredible wide-field image of June 7, 2020 (days before a close approach to the sun), it imaged six of our solar system’s planets. 

From left to right, they are Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Earth and Mercury. The spacecraft was roughly one AU from Earth at imaging time, at 98.3 million miles (158 million kilometers).

STEREO 

NASA’s STEREO spacecraft spotted six planets on June 7, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/STEREO/HI)

The single operational STEREO spacecraft — one of a pair that circled the sun behind and ahead of Earth in our planet’s approximate orbit starting in 2014 — also gazed at the planets on June 7, 2020. In this image you can see the same six planets as Parker on the same date, but from a different vantage point in the solar system. 

From left to right appear Mercury, Mars, Venus, Earth, Saturn and Jupiter. The dark columns in the image are due to the detector being saturated, which is a combination of the long exposure time with the relative brightness of the planets compared to the background stars, according to NASA. 

STEREO’s normal mission is to study the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, along with the solar wind, to improve solar weather predictions.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

Source: space.com

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