Solar Orbiter :
The Sun, the star of life, the core of our Solar System is one of the most mesmerizing celestial bodies that awed civilization for 1000s of years and still continues to mesmerize everyone, especially scientists. Their curiosity has led to the revealing of some of the infinite secrets held in our star for millennia. And as of the current situation, we are on course to learn a lot more about our Sun as the European Space Agency (ESA) joining hands with NASA launched the ‘Solar Orbiter mission’, its most advanced solar mission ever.
ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission was successfully launched on an Atlas V411 on 10th February 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida and has set its course to study the star and reveal the most intriguing secrets of our Sun.
What is ESA’s Solar Orbiter Mission?
The Solar Orbiter mission is to study the areas of the Sun where no spacecraft had ever ventured before, the polar regions. This is the 1st mission to map and study the poles of the Sun.
The Orbiter will study Sun’s polar zones which were previously uncharted and will reveal some unprecedented insights about how our source-of-life works.
What does the ESA’s Solar Orbiter have Onboard?
The Solar Orbiter has 10 scientific instruments onboard including both remote-sensing and in situ devices to study and observe the unstable solar surface, the Sun’s super-hot atmosphere, and the solar wind fluctuations.
The remote-sensing instruments are set to capture the high-resolution images of the Sun’s atmosphere – the Corona and the solar disc. And the in-situ instruments are set to measure and study the solar wind and the solar magnetic field in the proximity of the orbiter.
The project scientist Daniel Müller in an interview said, “The combination of remote-sensing instruments which look at the Sun, and in situ measurements, which feel its power, will allow us to join the dots between what we see at the Sun and what we experience while soaking up the solar wind.”
He also said, “This will provide unprecedented insight into how our parent star works in terms of its 11-year solar activity cycle, and how the Sun creates and controls the magnetic bubble the heliosphere – in which our planet resides.”
What is the Plotted Path of ESA’s Probe?
Solar Orbiter is scheduled to reach its orbit by the end of 2021 which makes its journey to reach its destined orbit take less than 2 years. Solar Orbiter will use the gravitational power of Earth and Venus to position itself into a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun.
Then the Orbiter will use Venus’s gravitational force to slingshot itself from the ecliptic plane of our Solar System. It is plotted to reach an inclination of 17° above and below the solar equator and is planned to extend to 33° inclination.
This will be a whole new angle ever reached by a probe to study the Solar poles. At its closet point, the Orbiter will be approximately 42 million km from the solar surface.
The number might seem a lot but it’s actually very close to the Sun. To prevent the instruments from burning up, the spacecraft is equipped with the cutting-edge heat shield technology to shield it from the intense heat of the Sun that might reach up to 500°C (that is 13 times more heat than what the satellites in Earth orbit can withstand)…
But Solar Orbiter isn’t the only spacecraft out there to study our parent star at close proximity. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is already in its orbit close to the Sun, studying the origin of solar winds. Parker Solar Probe stays at 6 million km from the Sun’s surface at its closet point.
Image source: Wikimedia
Both Solar Orbiter’s and Parker Solar Probe’s study and observation will provide a better understanding of the Sun like never before and might provide us a better way to predict solar storms in advance that might knock off the power grid, telecommunication, and satellite operation.