The Sun is Closely Analyzed in Three Different Missions

The Solar Orbiter probe, a joint program between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, was launched yesterday, on February 9th.

The lunch took place almost two weeks following the reveal of the first capture from a gigantic new solar telescope, which depicted the structure of the Sun with more accuracy than humans scientists have ever seen. One the same day, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe performed its closest yet flyby past the Sun, a record it will keep breaking until the year 2025.

“It’s a great time to be a heliophysics; we’re launching lots of new missions,” Nicky Fox, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, stated. “It’s a very strategic way that we’re looking at this system [of instruments], as one large observatory.”

Data Will be Available From Three Different Sources

Solar Orbiter will not fly as close to the Sun as the Parker Solar Probe, but it comes with unique skills that the NASA probe doesn’t have. It packs two kinds of tools, out of which the first will observe the surrounding environment, and the other will analyze the visible surface of the Sun at a distance. Its mission also requires it to leave the belt around the star’s middle, known as the ecliptic, and start orbiting the Sun at a tilt, which will enable it to use the second set of instruments, some telescopic tools, to generate the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles.

The National Science Foundation’s Inouye Solar Telescope is located on Earth, and the build of it is still in progress. However, as soon as all of its tools are functional, there will be numerous high-resolution images researchers will collect.

“The Inouye Solar Telescope is a microscope on the Sun,” Valentin Martínez Pillet, director of the National Solar Observatory, which operates the facility, said.

The observatory will also calculate the wavelengths of light generated by the Sun and try to understand the magnetic mark of light that is influenced by the Sun’s magnetic field. Even though the three missions are separate projects, the scientists stated that they are incredibly excited about bringing all the information together.

Merging data from all three sources is crucial for researchers to attain the aim that drives the programs: to understand the Sun and its impact all over the Solar System. The effects of the Sun’s antics expand throughout the Solar System as a series of phenomena known as space weather.

Predicting Space Weather Could be a Thing in the Future

In Earth’s vicinity, space weather can engage with the technology today’s world is depending on, more so navigation and communication satellites. Space weather is also dangerous for astronauts traveling from Earth, as it can damage their technology, as well as their bodies.

Solar scientists also want to be capable of predicting space weather in a similar manner meteorologists do on Earth.

“We are 50 or 100 years lagging from what terrestrial weather is in terms of prediction,” Martínez Pillet said. “We’re able to predict a single second on the Sun,” he said. “I’m exaggerating — well, no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. We’re not able to have any realistic predictive capabilities today, but as soon as you get the physics right, then you start being able to develop predictive capabilities.”

The researcher also said that one space weather event has multiple scales: “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.”

By the time space weather gets to Earth, it has been affected by millions of miles of space; therefore, it is much fresher where both the solar probes can analyze it. Evidently, even those high-powered projects won’t understand all the enigmas surrounding the Sun.

“We know right now what we don’t know, but we’re going to find a whole lot more things that we don’t know,” Fox said. “That’s why it’s nice that these missions are so long, so you have time to develop these new questions, this new thirst for knowledge.”

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