orbitador solar

First approach to the Sun made by the Solar Orbiter

A few months have passed since at the beginning of the year we mentioned the Solar Orbiter as part of the calendar of space missions planned to take place throughout 2020.

Well, it seems that the time has come when this structure has completed its journey and made its triumphal entry into perihelion, the point in the orbit closest to the Sun, thus placing the orbiter 77 million kilometers from its surface, a distance that it represents almost half of the distance between this star and the Earth.

Once located there, the scientists will wait a week to begin testing the 10 scientific instruments present on the spacecraft, including the 6 telescopes on board.

With them, it is intended to obtain for the first time close images of the Sun simultaneously, which, according to the scientist of the ESA solar orbiter project, Daniel Mller, will represent the closest close-up images that have ever been recorded of this star.

Added to this, Daniel pointed out that already earlier this year higher resolution close-ups had been obtained from the Daniel K. Inouye 4-meter solar telescope located in Hawi.

However, as these images were taken from Earth, only a small part of the solar spectrum could be captured due to the atmosphere present between the telescope and the Sun, a situation that does not occur in space.

Daniel pointed out that the Orbiter’s ultraviolet imaging telescopes have the same spatial resolution as those of NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO), thus making it possible to capture high-resolution images of the Sun from an orbit close to Earth.

In addition to this, Daniel pointed out that, given the Orbiter’s proximity to the Sun, the images obtained will have twice the resolution of SDO during this perihelion.

Testing

The primary reason behind these first observations is to show the potential that Solar Orbiter telescopes possess for use in future scientific observations.

In reference to the mission to be carried out by the Orbiter Daniel stated the following

For the first time, we will be able to collect the images from all of our telescopes and see how they take complementary data from the various parts of the Sun, including the surface, the outer atmosphere or corona, and the larger heliosphere that surrounds it.

Along with this, the scientists will also perform an analysis of the data generated by the 4 instruments designed to measure elements of the environment present around the spacecraft, such as the magnetic field and the particles that make up the solar wind.

In this regard, ESA’s Deputy Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Yannis Zouganelis noted:

This is the first time that our in-situ instruments have operated at such a close distance to the Sun, giving us a unique insight into the structure and composition of the solar wind. [] For on-site instruments, this is not just a test, we look forward to exciting new results.

Launched on February 10 of this year, the Solar Orbiter is already completing the last steps of what has been the commissioning phase until now, which is expected to end on June 15 to make way for the start-up phase. cruise that will continue until November 2021.

After this, the spacecraft will enter the main scientific phase where it will be ready to place itself at a distance of 42 million kilometers from the surface of the Sun, thus marking a distance closer than that between the star and the planet Mercury.

The Solar Orbiter is expected to reach its next perihelion in early 2021 and then enter the main scientific phase in early 2022, at which time it is expected to position itself at a distance of 48 million kilometers from the sun.