Solar Orbiter top science questions: #3 How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
The Sun is the most powerful particle accelerator in the Solar System. It routinely produces energetic particle radiation at speeds close to the speed of light. This radiation is sufficiently energetic to be detected on Earth even under the protection of our magnetic field and atmosphere. Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) events can severely affect space hardware, disrupt radio communications, and cause re-routing of commercial air traffic away from polar regions.
Almost the entire Solar Orbiter payload contributes to revealing the origins of SEP events. By examining the particles themselves and by taking measurements and images at different wavelengths of the environment they come from, Solar Orbiter will reveal which of the candidate mechanisms for SEP production comes closest to nature.