The science: Closer to the sun than ever before: the ‘solar-orbiting’ spacecraft


The dream of getting close to the oldest and largest star in our solar system has come true. The Solar Orbiter spacecraft has reached the closest point to the sun in history.

Flying in space, flying over the blue planet, exploring distant planets and undiscovered places: the dream of other galaxies and unknown stars occupied medieval researchers, who began to observe the sky more intensely and more systematically, and thus also influenced those who later practiced science. Today, the universe that surrounds the Earth is closer to us humans than ever before. The pioneering discoveries and missions of the past decades, such as the many Mars probes to explore the Red Planet or the Hubble Space Telescope’s remarkable images, are beyond our imaginations.

Now another dream of space travel has come true: The Solar Orbiter has now reached the point closest to the sun on its multi-year journey through space. The mission was launched on February 10, 2020 as part of the European Space Agency’s 2015-2025 Cosmic Vision program. In addition to other countries such as Spain and the Switzerland Four research institutions and institutes in Germany participated in the development and provision of the tool, thus providing six of the ten required tools. The goal is to explore the physics of the Sun and the inner heliosphere – the region that largely surrounds the Sun. This also includes electromagnetic fields and solar particles that flow around the spacecraft.

Solar Orbiter has approached the Sun at a distance of 48 million km

High-resolution observations were planned in order to draw conclusions about the relationship between the Sun and the Earth and to better understand the star. The heliosphere is strongly influenced by the solar wind with its magnetic fields and energetic particles. The main question since then according to Esa and NASA, to study how the sun affects the surrounding area. The same physical conditions cannot be reproduced in a laboratory on Earth. Therefore, measurements close to the sun are required to examine the solar environment as well and as original as possible.

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“Solar Orbiter” is now as close to the sun as 48 million km, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Saturday. This corresponds to less than a third of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The Solar Orbiter has gotten closer to the center of the solar system than any spacecraft before it. With a cost of about 1.5 billion euros, the Solar Orbiter is one of the middle-class missions of ESA and NASA. There are ten science instruments aboard the 1.8-ton spacecraft.

Impressive solar flare – one of the images from the “Solar Orbiter” probe, which was sent on a mission by ESA and NASA.

Photo: Solar Orbiter / EUI Team / ESA & NASA / d

As early as June 2020, the probe flew to within 77 million kilometers from the Sun and took pictures of the mysterious “camp fires” on the star. According to the research, the orbiter’s very current orbit will change little over the next three years: the spacecraft will reach its closest point to the sun about every six months. During the next pass, scheduled for October, the space probe will fly as far as 42 million km from the Sun – 6 million km closer than it is now.

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