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Science And Nature

ESAs Solar orbiter just got smacked by way of a coronal mass ejection

The sun-observing Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes regular flybys at Venus, taking measurements of the planet's magnetic field as a side project.

The sun-observing Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes regular flybys at Venus, taking measurements of the planet’s magnetic field as a side project.(Image credit: ESA)

The sun-exploring Solar Orbiter spacecraft came in person with an enormous eruption of plasma from sunlight, just before a pivotal flyby of Venus.

An enormous coronal mass ejection (CME), a burst of charged particles from the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, shot right out of the sun on Aug. 30 in direction of Venus. Soon after that, the bubble of solar material reached Solar Orbiter, that was just finding your way through its latest orbital flyby of the next planet of the solar system.

Fortunately, the ESA-NASA observatory is made to gauge the very sort of violent outburst it just encountered and therefore could withstand the solar assault easily.

The spacecraft carries 10 science instruments to see the sun’s surface and collect data on CMEs, the solar wind and the suns magnetic field. A few of these instruments were switched off through the close method of Venus, because of the potential risk from sunlight bouncing off the highly reflective Venusian atmosphere, ESA said in a statement.

Related: Sunlight as you’ve never seen it: European probe snaps closest-ever photo of our star

The powerful coronal mass ejection that hit Solar Orbiter ahead of its Venus flyby seen in this image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft.

The powerful coronal mass ejection that hit Solar Orbiter before its Venus flyby observed in this image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. (Image credit: ESA/NASA SOHO)

Solar Orbiter was, however, in a position to collect some valuable measurements of its environment through the CME encounter, detecting a rise in energetic solar particles. Violent solar events see particles such as for example protons, electrons and also ionized helium atoms hurled from sunlight and accelerated to near relativistic speeds. Such particles pose a radiation risk to astronauts and will damage spacecraft. Understanding their movements and behavior in space will therefore be valuable for protecting life and technology on Earth and in space.

The spacecraft later successfully made its close method of Venus at 01: 26 GMT Sept. 4 (9: 26 p.m. EDT Sept. 3).

“The close approach went exactly to plan, because of a lot of planning from our colleagues in Flight Dynamics and the diligent care of the Flight Control Team,” Jose-Luis Pellon-Bailon, Solar Orbiter Operations Manager, said in the statement.

The close approach was primarily designed to allow Solar Orbiter to improve its orbit to go on it closer to sunlight. Through the flyby, however, the probe also made bonus observations of Venuss mysterious magnetic field.

Solar Orbiter launched in 2020 and is two-and-a-half years into its decade-long mission to image sunlight from the closest ever distance and study the properties of the star’s magnetic field. The spacecraft uses Venus’s gravity to improve and tilt its orbit from the ecliptic plane, where planets orbit. These visits to Venus will eventually enable Solar Orbiter to help make the first-ever observations of the sun’s unexplored poles, which are fundamental to driving the star’s 11-year cycle of activity, the ebb and flow in the generation of sunspots, flares and eruptions that affect space weather around Earth.

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Andrewis a freelance space journalist with a concentrate on reporting on China’s rapidly growing space sector. He began writingfor Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist among others.Andrewfirst caught the area bug when, as a young child,hesaw Voyager images of other worlds inside our solar system for the firsttime.From space,Andrewenjoys trail running in the forests of Finland.It is possible to follow him on Twitter@AJ_FI (opens in new tab).

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