The Solar Orbiter spacecraft exploring the sun encountered a massive plasma flare from the sun, just before a pivotal flyby of Venus.
A huge coronal mass ejection (CME), an explosion of charged particles from the upper atmosphere of the sunthe crown, taken from Sun August 30 to Venus. Shortly after, the bubble of solar matter reached solar orbiterwhich was preparing its last orbital flyby of the second planet of the solar system.
Fortunately, the ESA-NASA observatory is designed to measure the very type of violent explosion it just encountered and could therefore easily withstand solar onslaught.
The spacecraft carries 10 scientific instruments to observe the surface of the sun and collect data on CMEs, the solar wind and the magnetic field of the sun. Some of these instruments were turned off during the close approach to Venus, due to the potential risk of sunlight bouncing off the highly reflective Venusian atmospheresaid the ESA in a statement.
Solar Orbiter was, however, able to collect valuable measurements of its surroundings during the CME encounter, detecting an increase in energetic solar particles. Violent solar events see particles such as protons, electrons, and even ionized helium atoms hurled from the sun and accelerated to near-relativistic speeds. These particles pose a radiation hazard to astronauts and can damage spacecraft. Understanding their movements and behavior in space will therefore be valuable in protecting life and technology on Earth and in space.
The spacecraft then successfully made its close approach to Venus at 01:26 GMT on September 4 (9:26 p.m. EDT on September 3).
“The close approach went exactly as planned, thanks to great planning by our colleagues at Flight Dynamics and the diligent care of the flight control team,” said Jose-Luis Pellon-Bailon, director of operations. of Solar Orbiter, in the press release.
The close approach was primarily intended to allow Solar Orbiter to alter its orbit to bring it closer to the sun. During the flyby, however, the probe also made bonus sightings of Venus’ mysterious magnetic field.
Solar Orbiter launched in 2020 and is two and a half years into its decade-long mission to image the sun at the closest distance and study the star’s magnetic field properties. The spacecraft uses Venus’ gravity to alter and tilt its orbit away from the ecliptic plane, in which the planets orbit. These visits to Venus will eventually allow Solar Orbiter to make the first-ever observations of the sun’s uncharted poles, which are key to driving the star. 11 year duty cyclethe ebb and flow of the generation of sunspotsflare-ups and rashes that affect space weather around the Earth.
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