Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageESA's one-year-old Solar Orbiter 'hides' behind the Sun

By Karen Graham     Feb 13, 2021 in Science
The ESA's deep-space mission, Solar Orbiter, is doing a vanishing act as its orbit takes it behind the Sun. On February 10, the plucky little orbiter, affectionately called "Solo" by Mission Control, began its crucial pass behind the Sun.
The February 10 date is doubly important. First, that is the date in 2020 that the solar probe was launched, so "Solo" is now one-year-old. February 10 is important for another reason, too, It was the start of the 'conjunction season' and runs until mid-February.
Daniel Müller, a Solar Orbiter project scientist with the ESA, explained: “On 10 [February], we will be at perihelion; that is, the closest approach to the Sun of the current orbit, just under half the distance between the Sun and Earth." As the spaceship's orbit begins taking it behind the Sun, the apparent angle, as seen from Earth, between Solar Orbiter and the sun started falling below 5 degrees.
ESA mission controllers prepared for the orbiter's pass behind the Sun for several weeks - uploading commands to Solo to allow the spacecraft to operate autonomously if needed.
The Solar Orbiter mission to explore the Sun
The Solar Orbiter mission to explore the Sun
Jonathan WALTER, AFP
The Sun generates a lot of noise or interference in the radio spectrum, and this means that Solo's transmission rate will be reduced from 255 bits per second down to a measly 7.8 bits per second - "slower than the slowest modem back in the dial-up era," writes Universe Today.
“Although Solar Orbiter goes quite close to the Sun, it also goes quite far away,” said Anne Pacros, the payload manager at the European Space Agency’s, or ESA’s, European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. “We have to survive both high heat and extreme cold.” In the dark of space, Solar Orbiter faces temperatures of minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. At the closest approach, 26 million miles from the Sun, it will encounter intense heat and radiation.
The Solar Orbiter won't be in any danger from the intense heat generated by our star. The spacecraft has a heat shield coated with black calcium phosphate, a charcoal-like powder much like pigments used in cave paintings thousands of years ago, according to NASA.
Solar Orbiter’s heat shield is coated with a thin  black layer of calcium phosphate  a charcoal-li...
Solar Orbiter’s heat shield is coated with a thin, black layer of calcium phosphate, a charcoal-like powder much like pigments used in cave paintings thousands of years ago.
NASA/Ben Smegelsky
Looking ahead for the intrepid little spacecraft, in August this year, it will make a second flyby of Venus, out of a planned total of seven, followed by a flyby of Earth in late November.
Whatever the future may hold, Solo will be on hand for another six years or so, after it emerges back from behind the Sun, a witness to the goings-on in our universe. Solar Orbiter is an international cooperative mission between the European Space Agency and NASA.
More about solar orbiter, perihelion, Suns heliosphere, behind the sun, 'conjunction season'
 
Latest News
Top News