Monday, 24 February, 2020

Solar Orbiter blasts off on mission to reveal the sun's secrets

Watch NASA-ESA Solar Orbiter Lifts Off On Its Voyage To The Sun Count down to launch of Solar Orbiter mission to study Sun's poles
Wilbert Douglas | 13 February, 2020, 01:02

The UK is at the heart of this European Space Agency (ESA) mission with UK industry winning £200 million worth of contracts and the UK Space Agency investing £20 million in the development and build of the instruments. "It's a fantastic moment ... it's like, well, we're unstoppable".

Solar Orbiter will work closely with NASA's Parker Solar Probe, launched by ULA on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2018.

For more information on the Solar Orbiter and mission objectives, see this informative article that contains everything you need to know.

The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter mission will face the Sun from within the orbit of Mercury at its closest approach.


Solar Orbiter combines two main modes of study.

One of the most advanced science missions to study the sun in history - the Solar Orbiter - launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Florida on Sunday night. Though the spacecraft will spend a few years easing into its unique elliptical orbit around the Sun, once there, it will be well positioned to also study the Sun's poles up close for the first time. The remote-sensing instruments will image the Sun from afar, along with its atmosphere and its outflow of material, collecting data that will help scientists understand the Sun's inner workings.

It will be controlled out of the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt. It is hoped the unprecedented views of the polar regions will further our understanding of the solar dynamo, a physical process that gives rise to the Sun's magnetic field.

"In the first two days after launch, Solar Orbiter will deploy its instrument boom and several antennas that will communicate with Earth and gather scientific data", the press release said.


"Each instrument plays a different tune, but together they play the sun's symphony", Hasinger said. They'll be protected in part by a heat shield made of titanium and covered with a calcium phosphate coating that will absorb most of the 1,000-degree temperatures, however, resulting in a more tolerable range of between 4 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the actual instruments themselves. Already, the planned launch of Solar Orbiter has been delayed by a few days - and timing is key to making sure those gravitational forces can work as created to achieve its goal, so here's hoping today's launch goes off as planned. "It has a couple of gravity assists, a slingshot around Venus, and then it comes back around Earth, and back to Venus". The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), WIND and Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) monitor the solar wind and near-Earth space environment for approaching solar storms.

Fox considers it "a golden age" for solar physics.

"There is still so much science to do", she said, "and definitely a great time to become a heliophysicist".


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