Europe’s Solar Orbiter Flies “Too Close to the Sun”

by Montana Fleming

This might have been the first time that the phrase “too close to the sun” is being deemed as a good thing. Europe’s Solar Orbiter (SoIO) probe makes their first close pass of the Sun on Monday at an astonishing pass made at a distance of just over 77 million km. The close pass known as perihelion puts the probe between the orbits of Venus and Mercury. In the coming years, the probe will get further close to the Sun at a distance of 43 million kms.

As of today only five other missions have dove deeper into the Inner Solar system – Mariner 10, Helios 1 & 2, Messenger, and Parker Solar Probe. In retrospect, Earth orbits at a range of 140 million kms (93 million miles) from the Sun. SoIO is a European Space Agency (ESA) craft that was assembled in the UK by the aerospace company Airbus. It spent a total of four months since launch undergoing a checkout phase as engineers made sure that the probe’s systems and 10 scientific instruments on board were up for the long journey.

“We switched on, on 24 February – we’ve already got over 2 billion magnetic field vectors on the ground. We’ve got a happy, busy science team working away at the data,” said Prof Tim Horbury, the MAG principal investigator at Imperial College London.

The American Space Probe works the same way however at a much lesser distance than the ESA’s probe. On June 7, the probe made a pass at just 19 million kms from the star. “We’re now just one of a constellation of spacecraft flying around the Sun,” Prof Horbury quotes.

The full scientific operations will begin in 2021 when all 10 of SoIO’s instruments, including its imagers will begin transmitting back regular observations.

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