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just a few days after passing through the tail of the comet Atlas, the Solar Orbiter mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) which is directed towards the Sun, took place last Monday, which is considered to be your first approach to our star . The probe is already at 77 million kilometers from its surface, which would amount to half of the distance that separates it from the Earth. A first milestone in a historic mission.
During the week following this first perihelion, the point along its orbit of closest approach to the Sun, the scientists of the mission will test ten instruments of the spacecraft, including six telescopes that, for the first time, will capture close-up images of the Sun simultaneously. These are some extraordinary photos since, according to Daniel Müller, project scientist, will be the closest match to the Sun ever taken. “there’s been close-up shots with a higher resolution, such as those captured this year by the solar telescope of four-meter Daniel K. Inouye, of Hawaii. But because of the atmosphere that interposes between the ground-based telescopes and the Sun, these can only see a small part of the solar spectrum in comparison with what is observed from space”, explains the researcher.
As the ship is now at 134 million kilometres from Earth, the images will take about a week to download via the antenna of the deep space of 35 m, located in Malargue (Argentina). Then, teams of scientists the be processed before they are published in mid-July.
“We have a download window of nine hours each day, but we are far from the Land, so that the data rate is much lower than it was in the first weeks of the mission, when we were still very near —clarifies Daniel—. In the following phases, there will be times in which the data will take several months to download completely, because Solar Orbiter is a mission truly deep space”.
Another probe solar, the Parker of NASA, launched in 2018, is closer to our star. However, do not have telescopes able to look at her directly. “Our telescopes imaging in the ultraviolet have the same spatial resolution as that of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) of NASA, which take high-resolution images of the Sun from an orbit close to the Earth. As in these moments we are at the half of distance to the Sun, during this perihelion our images have double the resolution of SDO,” says Daniel.
The main objective of these first observations is to check if the telescopes of Solar Orbiter are ready for the future scientific observations. “For the first time we will be able to combine the images of our four telescopes and see how they collect complementary data from different parts of the Sun, including the surface, the outer atmosphere, or corona, and the heliosphere broader than what is around it”, he says.
The scientists also analyzed data from the four instruments for in situ measuring the properties of the environment around the ship, as the magnetic field and the particles that constitute the solar wind. It will be the first time that you work so close to the Sun, so that we can provide, according to the researchers, an unprecedented view of the structure and the composition of the solar wind.
Solar Orbiter, launched on 10 February this year, concluded their implementation phase in-service on Monday, and has started the cruise phase, which will run until November 2021. During the phase of scientific principal, which will start immediately after, the ship will reach only 42 million kilometers of the Sun’s surface, closer than the planet Mercury.
At the beginning of 2021 will take place on your next perihelion. During the first great approach during the phase of scientific principal, which will take place at the beginning of 2022, it will be at 48 million km from the Sun.
At that time, the operators of Solar Orbiter will use the gravity of Venus to go deflecting the orbit of the spacecraft out of the plane of the ecliptic on the orbit of the planet in the solar system. These maneuvers gravity assist will allow you to look at the Sun from latitudes higher and get the first image itself of its poles. to Study the activity in the polar regions will help scientists better understand the behavior of the Sun’s magnetic field, which gives rise to the solar wind which, in turn, affects the entire solar system and causes the phenomena of weather in space are produced in the vicinity of our planet.