The Solar Orbiter probe prepares to begin its main scientific mission exploration of the Sun, but first he will have to return and fly over the Earth, during which he will have to pass through the clouds of space debris around the planet.
The flyover, which “will be the riskiest so far for a scientific mission”, will take place on the 27th. closer approximation, just 460 kilometers above North Africa and the Spanish Canary Islands, almost as close as the orbit of the International Space Station, as reported by European Space Agency (ESA), which leads the mission in collaboration with NASA.
The maneuver is critical to lowering the probe’s energy and aligning it for its next step close to our star.
The maneuver is essential for decrease energy of the probe and align it for its next step near our star, although there is “a small risk of collision” with some Trash, so that the operations team can monitor the situation closely and change their trajectory in case of danger.
The ship must go through two orbital regions, each of them is populated by space debris. The first is the geostationary ring of satellites to 36,000 kilometers and the second is the collection of low earth orbits (about 400 kilometers), then there is a risk of collision at four points along the trajectory.
Study the Earth’s magnetic field
Returning to Earth’s vicinity offers Solar Orbiter a “unique opportunity” to study its magnetic field, which is “the interface of our atmosphere with the solar wind”, the constant stream of particles emitted by the sun.
Returning to Earth’s vicinity offers the Solar Orbiter a unique opportunity to study its magnetic field.
Solar Orbiter was was launched in February 2020 and, since July of last year, is in the cruise phase. The probe has already made its first approach to the Sun, 77 million kilometers away, and has provided data by activating part of its instruments.
One of those that are already in action is the Energy Particle Detector (EPD), whose principal investigator is an astrophysicist from University of Alcala (Madrid) Javier Rodríguez-Pacheco, which has been taking measurements of solar wind and other conditions around the Solar Orbiter.
Science at half gas
Although the probe is not yet in the mission phase that allows for a full science mode, it has already generated a lot of information, and more than fifty items with its results.
Of these, about twenty use EPD data, which has proven to be one of the “most reliable instruments” and its data, one of the most used by the scientific community, highlighted Rodríguez-Pacheco.
After flying over the ground, the Solar Orbiter will return to the star and, in March, it will make a second close pass, just 50 million kilometers away.
After the terrestrial flyby, the Solar Orbiter will return to the going to the star and, in March, it will carry out a second closure stage, just 50 million kilometers away, one third of the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
This new approach will provide new images and data, for example, from the enigmatic “bonfires” that the Solar Orbiter detected during its first close-by-sun flyover.
Those ones bonfires they could contain clues as to why the star’s outer atmosphere is millions of degrees, while on the surface it is only thousands, apparently defying physics.
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