Last night at 11:03 p.m. EST, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA successfully launched their joint Solar Orbiter mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with the spacecraft catching a ride aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018, will work in conjunction with the Solar Orbiter.
Almost 1,000 scientists and engineers from all over Europe gathered with their American colleagues under a full moon while the Atlas V rocket shot away from United Launch Alliance and illuminated the sky for miles.
Solar Orbiter was fitted on top of an Atlas V rocket that launched from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However, Daniel Mueller, Solar Orbiter project scientist at ESA, said the spacecraft will come about halfway between the Earth and sun in June.
"It was a really emotional moment: I have been working on this mission for 12 years". This is because they are far from the area known as the ecliptic plane. It is also the plane where all the planets orbit.
At its fastest, Solar Orbiter can nearly catch up to the Sun's rate of rotation, allowing the spacecraft to hover over specific spots on the Sun as it turns and study how a single solar feature evolves over time. "It's incredible", said Holly Gilbert of NASA. These instruments are packed behind 324-pound heat shield.
The spacecraft and its components, including its 18-m (59 feet) solar array (as measured from tip to tip), were created to survive in the scorching temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) and withstand constant bombardment by highly charged particles of the solar wind for at least seven years.
Merging data from all three sources is crucial for researchers to attain the aim that drives the programs: to understand the Sun and its impact all over the Solar System.
A new European-built spacecraft called Solar Orbiter just launched from Cape Canaveral, on an unprecedented mission to the Sun. In addition, the instruments on Ulysses, which was launched in 1990, were not as sensitive as those on the current mission. This will place the spacecraft's imaging equipment at an "ideal distance to get a comprehensive view of the sun and its surrounding atmosphere".
The objective is to study the polar regions of the Sun, as well as to understand more about several phenomenons that occur at its surface.
Like Earth's own North and South poles, the Sun's poles are extreme regions quite different from the rest of the Sun.
Solar storms could cause major disruptions to technologies including our energy grid, mobile phone signal and navigation systems.
The change in vision may solve mysteries how the sun spreads charged particles flying outside the solar system and buffeting planets, including the Earth. Solar Orbiter promises to add to that legacy. NASA says the spacecraft's instruments can collect data on the solar material and measure it. The total mission cost is $1.5 billion, counting both ESA and NASA contributions.
The spacecraft will autonomously unfold an array of antennas and solar panels to map the sun's polar regions. No other mission has shown us the Sun from that vantage point! Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor. "We're not able to have any realistic predictive capabilities today, but as soon as you get the physics right, then you start being able to develop predictive capabilities".