NASA, ESA Launch Solar Orbiter Toward Sun's Poles

ESA BR-345 Solar Orbiter Facing the Sun

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA, launched yesterday (Feb. 9), less than two weeks after the first public image from a massive new solar telescope showed off the structure of our star in more detail than humans have ever seen.

Parker Solar Probe, on the other hand, has already passed within 18.6 million kilometers of the sun, a record of all time, and photographs for a narrow gap of six million kilometers in 2025. The launch vehicle of choice was the United Launch Vehicle (ULA) Atlas V rocket. "Solar Orbiter is putting the focus back on the processes that are involved in transporting material from the Sun to Earth". The mission is expected to last seven years.

That unique orbit will lift SolO out of the plane of the planets to look down on the Sun's poles. It is also the plane where all the planets orbit.

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. His NASA counterpart, scientist Holly Gilbert, exclaimed, "One word: Wow". These instruments are packed behind 324-pound heat shield. To beat the heat, the probe is equipped with a heavy-duty heat shield capable of weathering temperatures as high as 970 degrees Fahrenheit. Every one these tools needed to be tempered to withstand not just those exceptionally significant temperatures in the Orbiter's closest approach to the Sun, but down to nearly -300 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be an wonderful engineering challenge when you are managing instrumentation made to detect very nice detail. In addition, the instruments on Ulysses, which was launched in 1990, were not as sensitive as those on the current mission.

Quite an important mission to happen low key, the Solar Orbiter illuminated the dark sky of Florida's Atlantic coast, which was a bit low-key to put the spacecraft into orbit around the scorching sun. This will place the spacecraft's imaging equipment at an "ideal distance to get a comprehensive view of the sun and its surrounding atmosphere". "There is a lot that we observe from Earth but we don't necessarily understand how this phenomenon is generated and this is the objective of the mission".

This activity will include measurements of the solar wind, the Sun's heliospheric magnetic field, the solar energetic particles, transient interplanetary disturbances and its magnetic field.


Like Earth's own North and South poles, the Sun's poles are extreme regions quite different from the rest of the Sun.

Scientists want to better understand what drives its dynamic behaviour.

Solar storms could cause major disruptions to technologies including our energy grid, mobile phone signal and navigation systems. During the solar maximum, sunspots and solar flares can send energized particles barreling towards the Earth. That is where Solar Orbiter will shine.

"They measure the sun at the location of the spacecraft itself, providing images of the sun, the corona, the light scattered from the solar winds", Garcia said. The European project scientist Daniel Mueller was delighted and called it "perfect for the photo".

The spacecraft will autonomously unfold an array of antennas and solar panels to map the sun's polar regions.

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