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Solar Orbiter Launches to Discover Solar Storms

Solar Orbiter Launches to Discover Solar Storms

Wednesday, 12 February, 2020 - 06:45
In this wide angle and long exposure shot, United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket, lifts off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday night, Feb. 9, 2020. (Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP).
Miami - London - Asharq Al-Awsat

In a one-decade mission aimed at studying the particle-charged solar storms and their effects on earth, the European-US mission "Solar Orbiter" has launched on Sunday from Florida, as part of partnership between the NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

The probe was successfully launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral base loaded with 10 scientific instruments that will be used during the mission estimated at 1.5 billion euros. After a fly-by of Venus and Mercury, the probe is set to hit a maximum speed of 245,000 kilometers per hour, approaching the Sun as close as 42 million km - less than a third of the distance between the Earth and the sun.

After the launch, Daniel Muller, ESA project scientist said: "I think it was picture perfect, suddenly you really feel like you're connected to the entire solar system."

For her part, Holly Gilbert, director of NASA's heliophysics science division said: "We have one common goal and that is to get the good science out of this mission. I think we're going to succeed."

"Through this probe, the Solar Orbiter mission will be able to monitor the Sun directly," Matthieu Berthomier, researcher at the Paris-based Plasma Physics Laboratory told AFP.

The probe is encapsulated with a heat shield that will protect it from a surrounding temperature of 600 C. "When approaching the Sun, we have no problem with energy but rather with very high temperatures," said Ian Walters, Airbus' program manager for Solar Orbiter.

The data collected by the new probe will be added to the old data collected by NASA's probe "Parker", which was launched in 2018, and had approached the Sun at a closer distance (7 to 8 million kilometers) but couldn't use direct observation techniques because of high temperatures.

The European probe will use six tools to remotely take pictures of the sun at an unprecedented distance, and this would show the sun's poles for the first time. Another four "field" measuring instruments will be used to probe the environment around the sun. The main objective of the mission is "to understand how the sun forms its atmosphere and controls it," said Anne Pacros, payload manager at ESA. The atmosphere is located in a continuous stream of particles called solar wind, and it is vastly diverse, in a mysterious way.

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