The 2020 Academy Awards are taking place in Los Angeles, California, on the west coast of the United States, at 11:03 p.m. EST on Feb. 9. As far away as Florida, on the east coast, an Ariane 5 rocket pulled up from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending a spacecraft called the Solar Orbiter into space.
This is the latest solar exploration project by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA to help scientists observe the sun from an unprecedented perspective, opening a new chapter in human exploration of the sun.
What is the purpose of the solar orbiter?
The Solar Orbiter is a solar probe jointly developed by the European Space Agency and NASA, and is the second NASA mission to the inner solar system in recent years, following the Parker Solar Probe. So far, almost all solar observatories have been running on the solar eclipt plane. This means that much more gathered by scientists is concentrated in the upper and lower regions of the sun’s equator, with little knowledge of the sun’s poles. With the help of the Solar Orbiter, scientists will be able to clearly observe the sun’s poles for the first time, which may help people understand the inner laws of solar activity.
For decades, scientists have been trying to unravel the mysteries of solar activity in order to prepare for the eruption of geomagnetic storms. But so far, scientists have no reliable way to predict the occurrence of geomagnetic storms. Although researchers have obtained detailed data on the magnetic field in the middle of the sun through various detectors, there is still little understanding of the magnetic field information of the polar parts and how the stellar magnetic field changes during the flip. “The magnetic field of the sun’s poles cannot be effectively observed on the eclipical surface, and solar orbiters are critical to accurately modeling to predict space weather,” explains Gilbert, nasa’s director of the Solar Orbiter program. “
Looking at the sun’s poles through the Solar Orbiter may explain why the sun has a solar cycle of about 11 years. The observed data will allow scientists to model the sun more precisely, potentially explaining key information about solar activity such as flare eruptions, solar winds, solar magnetic fields and solar eclipses, and helping to predict corresponding space weather events.
What’s on the solar orbiter?
The solar orbiter is 2.5 meters long and 3 meters wide and carries 10 scientific instruments, four of which are used to collect information on the flow of charged particles from the sun, the magnetic environment of the sun and the intensity of radiation, while six remote sensing instruments are mainly used to detect solar surface activity and generate relevant images.
To get close to the sun, the solar orbiter must be able to withstand the extreme temperatures and light from the star.
In order for the instrument to function properly, a heat shield is required to provide protection. The main body of the solar orbiter’s heat shield is made of titanium, and the surface is coated with a special material called “sun black” that can withstand temperatures of 600 degrees Celsius. The heat shield is mounted on one side of the aircraft and always faces the sun during flight. In order to allow the instruments on board the aircraft to collect data, the three holes in the heat shield are opened for 10 days at a time. The instrument is also equipped with heat-resistant mirrors to provide protection.
Long and tortuous miles
The Solar Orbiter will probe the sun within about 42 million kilometers of the sun and will be exposed to temperatures 13 times the temperature of Earth’s orbit. Over the next two years, the solar orbiter will enter the “cruise phase”, using gravity to accelerate repeatedly between Earth and Venus, and is scheduled to reach its first nearby point in June, about 75 million kilometers from the sun, and fly over Venus for the first time on December 26.
In 2025, the Solar Orbiter will fly toward Venus, which will orbit at a 17-degree angle to the eclipical plane, enough to make in-depth observations of the sun’s poles. Another flyover over Venus will increase the orbiting angle of the spacecraft to 33 degrees. Eventually, the solar orbiter is expected to orbit the sun 22 times in a decade.
NASA said the solar orbiter is expected to work with the Parker solar probe to “complement each other” with the mission.