We are witnessing a significant increase in solar activity as our Sun approaches the peak of yet another cycle. There are more sunspots to be seen, and solar flare occurrences are increasing. While the magnetosphere of the Earth shields us from all such solar activity, our spacecraft is constantly in danger from the Sun’s energy-intensive bursts.
The Solar Orbiter was launched by the European Space Agency in February 2020 to learn more about this phenomenon. Its objective is to approach the Sun as closely as possible, measure the inner heliosphere, and monitor the polar regions. The goal of this is to clarify what transpires on the Sun when its poles flip.
The Venus flyby
The mission of the Solar Orbiter is set to last a decade, during which it will remain in close resonance with Venus. According to ESA’s website, SolO will keep returning to the planet’s vicinity every few orbits in order to use the planet’s gravity to either alter or tilt its own orbit.
The orbiter was making its third approach to the planet on September 4. The maneuver’s angle of approach, velocity, and distance from Venus were meticulously planned so as to get desired effect. The orbiter was intended to be placed in an orbit that was closer to the Sun than ever before using this gravity assist.
A coronal mass ejection that erupted from the Sun on August 30 and carried high-intensity particles reached Venus as the orbiter was performing the manoeuvre.
Is SolO okay?
The ESA’s Flight Dynamics and Flight Control teams executed the flyby exactly as planned. The orbiter will be nearly 2.8 million miles (4.5 million km) closer to the Sun when it next reaches sun.
In order to prepare for the flyby, the ESA team had disabled a few of the orbiter’s instruments. They would protect them from stray sunlight reflected by the glassy planet by doing this. However, the orbiter’s “in-situ” instruments were able to measure surge of energetic particles coming from the Sun.
The orbiter is equipped with 10 instruments that can help us understand solar flares, coronal mass ejections and the Sun’s magnetic field, which will expand our understanding of the solar cycle and eventually will help us to better predict space weather.
The shape of the planets is influenced by the Sun, which occupies the centre of our solar system. The atmospheres of the inner planets were long ago stripped away by the Sun’s high temperatures, and they are no longer capable of supporting life.
We need to comprehend how space weather will impact us when we are not protected by the Earth’s magnetosphere, as well as how it will affect our machines and communication systems, as we aim to travel to the Moon and beyond.