Solar Orbiter was confronted with a coronal mass ejection, that is to say a powerful release of plasma. A phenomenon described as “enormous” by the European Space Agency. But fortunately, the probe has nothing.
The life of a space probe is not a long calm river. Especially when his mission brings him to approach a scientific target as agitated as the Sun. The European Space Agency (Esa) can testify to this: Solar Orbiter had quite an adventure at the beginning of September, fortunately without consequence. The machine was indeed confronted with the consequences of a solar ejection, which projected potentially destructive particles.
It is a coronal mass election that reached Solar Orbiter then that the craft was maneuvering around Venus — the probe uses this planet as a gravitational catapult, in order to relaunch itself towards the Sun. On this occasion, she took the opportunity to adjust her trajectory, so as to put herself in a better position to see the solar poles.
” Data shows increased radiation from ‘solar energetic particles’ », comment one of ESA’s official Twitter accounts. This coronal mass ejection is qualified as huge » by the European Space Agency, but fortunately Solar Orbiter was not affected. Thanks to its heat shield, described as ” ultra modern ».
This protection allows Solar Orbiter to isolate its scientific instruments from the most violent upheavals of the Sun. In addition, specifies the Esa, some electronics were off during the approach of Venus, in order to protect them from the sunlight reflected by the surface of the planet – a temporary deactivation, perhaps saving him from possible disappointments.
Coronal mass ejections are among the Sun’s most powerful phenomena. They can affect the entire solar system, remind the agency. A visualization shared on September 5 shows this flare hitting Venus and, in passing, Solar Orbiter. This animation is based on data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
Sometimes threatening phenomena for activity on Earth
Coronal mass ejections are not to be taken lightly. Directed towards the Earth, they can give rise to magnetic storms and affect the activity in the atmosphere, even on Earth. SpaceX could say a word about it: the company lost no less than 40 satellites earlier this year due to a magnetic storm. And at the same time millions of dollars.
Other consequences can be attached to these convulsions. There may be communication problems with the satellites – this can be disabling for those who rely on GPS or Galileo. Electronic components can be damaged. The density of the atmosphere can change and disrupt the orbit of satellites.
On Earth, direct risks are averted thanks to the magnetic field, notes the CNRS. The problems are indirect, for those who rely on satellites. In the case of the strongest eruptions, astronauts can also be exposed. Just like people on board an airplane. We understand the interest of closely monitoring solar activity.
Coronal mass ejections are not always linked to a solar flare. This is a plasma projection (flow of ions and electrons). They are monitored by various instruments and probes. In addition to Solar Orbiter, we should mention the SoHo mission (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), a joint project between ESA and its American counterpart, NASA. She also captured the phenomenon too.