Science

Solar Orbiter has just crossed the “border” between Earth and the Sun

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The mission solar orbiterjointly operated by Nasa and ESA, achieved another feat on Tuesday (8). In this International Women’s Daythe spacecraft that gives the mission its name crossed the line that corresponds halfway between the Earth and the Sun, preparing for its closest pass of the star on the 26th.

O solar orbiter crossing halfway between the Earth and the Sun provides a more convenient measurement – ​​in addition to crossing an important spatial boundary: our star emits a constant stream of particles called “solar wind”. Basically it’s how your magnetic field is swept through space, interacting with everything it touches along the way. When this limit is exceeded, the solar orbiter can analyze this current, comparing its data with that of objects closer to the Earth (such as IRIS, in our orbit; and SOHO, 1.5 million km from us), comparing the effects of these winds and connecting seemingly separate space weather events, creating a timeline with plenty of information for scientists to analyze.

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However, mission operators recognize that the solar orbiternow enters uncertain territory: “now we are officially ‘into the unknown’, at least as far as the observations of the Sun made by the solar orbitersaid Daniel Müller, a project scientist for the mission.

Our probe is now expected to reach the orbit of Mercury – the “first” planet of the solar system, closest to the Sun – March 14. It will continue at this rate until the 26th of this month, when we will wait for perihelion (name given to the point in the orbit of a space body where it is closest to the Sun). Fortunately, the spacecraft is designed to withstand such extreme moments for a long time, which will allow it to capture very high resolution images of the “star-king”, in various spectra, by all its instruments.

“What makes me most anxious is whether all these dynamic functions that we see in the [instrumento] Extreme Ultraviolet Imager may end up appearing in solar winds or not. There are a lot of them,” said Louise Harra, co-principal investigator at the Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos/World Radiation Center (PMOD/WRC) in Switzerland.

“Dynamic features,” in this case, are so-called “solar bonfires” — small explosions that NASA says happen all the time and help heat up the atmosphere. atmosphere around the Sun. In practice, however, we only saw them, in the first images shown by the solar orbiter in 2020, but we don’t know what they are for.

All eyes are now on Mercury’s perihelion. On the 26th, the 10 instruments of the solar orbiter will run simultaneously, in order to capture as much data as possible.

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