A new space probe will reveal the sun’s secrets

SunOslo.Sun.Photo:Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix

The Solar Orbiter probe that will reveal insights about the sun, will be launched on Monday. 
Several Norwegian players have contributed to the project, which will provide completely new insights about the sun, its poles and atmosphere.

The project is one of the European Space Agency’s most ambitious. The probe will be launched at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Monday night

The scientific goal is the sun. ESA and partner NASA hope the probe can provide new knowledge about the sun’s atmosphere, wind and magnetic fields. In addition, the probe will be the first to photograph the sun’s poles.

The probe will pass Venus and Mercury before reaching a maximum speed of 245,000 km /h and enters orbit approximately 42 million kilometers from the Sun’s surface.

Anne Pacros, who heads the mission, said the experiment is done to understand how the sun creates and controls the heliosphere – the large plasma bubble that surrounds the solar system. In addition, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how solar winds and solar storms form.

Charged particles are carried by the solar wind and are noticeable on Earth when they hit our magnetosphere and form northern lights.

Marked on earth
But scientist Matthieu Berthomier at the Plasma Physics Laboratory in Paris says the impact of the solar wind can also be felt far beyond polar regions.

“Solar wind disrupts our electromagnetic environment. This is what is called space weather, and it can affect our daily lives,” he explained to AFP.

In September 1859, North America was affected by a strong solar storm. It then knocked out large parts of the telegraph network on the continent. Such solar storms can also disrupt radar systems and radio networks today, and in rare cases turn out satellites.

“Imagine if only half of our satellites were destroyed. It would be a disaster for humanity,” warned Berthomier.

The probe’s mission is to make it easier for scientists to predict how and when solar wind will strike the Earth, which Berthomier said can be very important:

“A solar storm can hit us within a day or two after it occurs. Therefore, we can make time to protect ourselves by turning off the electrical systems in the satellites,” he added. 

Norwegian participation
Several Norwegian players have been involved in the work on the probe. Norwegian solar scientists at the Rosseland Center for Solar Physics at the University of Oslo have been leading the work on the SPICE instrument on the probe. The instrument will investigate the sun’s light spectra, and thus measure the temperature, pressure and other properties of the surface and atmosphere.

In addition, Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace is the supplier of the mechanism that ensures that the probe’s solar panels point in the right direction.

The Norwegian company Bitvis has delivered the control system for the solar panels on board – an agreement that was reached via the Norwegian Space Center.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today


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