Solar Orbiter blasts off in mission to the sun

NRL-built camera provides view into sun's polar regions

NRL-built camera provides view into sun's polar regions

Over the course of its mission, researchers plan to have the Solar Orbiter make 22 close approaches to the Sun.

But although the Parker Probe might seem flashier, the Solar Orbiter still has some important science to take care of. NASA supplied the 10th instrument and arranged the late-night launch from Cape Canaveral.

"The ULA team is extremely honored to launch Solar Orbiter, enabling more discovery of our sun", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. With more data on the global magnetic field of the star, scientists would be able to forecast space weather events.

Solar Orbiter launched on an Atlas V rocket of the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which features a unique launch vehicle configuration specifically created to take the observation ship of nearly 4,000 pounds from Earth and on its objective path to eventually approach to the Sun. First, it carries two types of instruments. It's also about a quarter of the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Carrying four in situ instruments (which measure the space environment immediately around the spacecraft like the sense of touch) and six remote-sensing imagers (which see the sun from afar), the Solar Orbiter (called SolO) will face the sun at approximately 42 million kilometres from its surface.

The National Science Foundation's Inouye Solar Telescope is stuck here on Earth, and construction is still underway.

Onboard is a heat shield and 10 instruments in total, including energy particle detectors, magnetometers, a solar wind plasma analyzer, an X-ray spectrometer/telescope, a spectral imaging device and a heliospheric imager.

We don't yet know what surprises the Solar Orbiter will reveal about our incredible host star, but we're looking forward to seeing what it can do. "We're just embedded in the Sun's magnetic field", said NRL astrophysicist Robin Colaninno.

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Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at the ESA, said the satellite will be in full science operations mode by November 2021, which is when it will be in the right orbit.

A new space mission is seeking to study the sun more closely than ever before. "We need to predict that". This is due to the lack of equipment and preparedness for an actual mission to be launched for us to understand the sun better. "I'm exaggerating - well, no, I don't think I'm exaggerating".

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"We see an event at one point in the solar atmosphere". "It's triggered at really small scales, and it's a huge thing that propagates all over the heliosphere and probably can hit several planets at the same time".

United Launch Alliance (ULA), a US launch service provider, on Sunday sent the Solar Orbiter spacecraft on a journey to snap the first pictures of the Sun's north and south poles. During the solar maximum, sunspots and solar flares can send energized particles barreling towards the Earth.

And there should be plenty for the trio of projects to study in the coming years.

Solar Orbiter is a 4,000-pound spacecraft with long and slender instruments and antennas and will go past Venus in December and again next year, and then past Earth, using the planets' gravity to alter its path. We have observed them and examined their functioning in detail.

Of course, even three high-powered missions won't solve every mystery about the sun.

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