US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The SOLAR Orbiter probe, assembled in the UK, made its first close flight near the Sun today, when it approached the Sun at a distance of about 47.8 million miles. It was launched in February this year.
However, the spacecraft is not yet fully prepared for routine operations. At least a year must pass for complete readiness, reports the BBC.
Since its launch, scientists have tested probe systems and sorted 10 scientific instruments that are on board during its voyage in space. So, for example, the magnetometer has been tested more than once, which can detect the magnetic fields emitted by the Sun.
This is important for tracking the huge flares that regularly occur on the sun. Called bursts of coronal mass, these explosions emit a “solar wind” that causes magnetic disturbances. Scientists are very interested in tracking these explosions, as they have the potential for potentially devastating effects.
Earth’s own magnetic field helps protect our planet from these extreme solar flares. But especially strong ones can interrupt the work of satellites that are in orbit, and even interrupt the power supply.
Researchers already have a lot of data about what these solar flares look like when they reach Earth, but the tendency for their changes during the “journey” from the Sun to our home planet is still very poorly studied.
Studying solar flares in the middle of their path gives scientists more understanding about them and can lead to more accurate forecasts of “space weather”.
Professor Tim Horbury, principal investigator of the magnetometer at ICL, noted that the instruments and the close orbit allow scientists to “get close to the Sun and see what happens [on] its surface, and then see how it spreads into interplanetary space.”
In addition, on board SolO there are thermal imagers that can photograph the Sun. As you would expect, one of the biggest problems engineers face when designing solar probes is how to protect them from the intense heat that the sun emits, but also to cope with the extreme cold of space.
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