Solar Orbiter to Fly Past Earth Thanksgiving Weekend

Earth Flyby
An artist’s idea of Solar Orbiter passing Earth. ESA

A mission to research our host star will go to our honest planet this coming weekend, one final time. Launched on February 10, 2020, from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, the joint NASA / European Space Agency Solar Orbiter mission is utilizing a collection of planetary flybys to ship it deep into the interior solar system. And whereas Solar Orbiter will make a number of flybys previous Venus, it’s solely set to pass Earth once, coming proper up this weekend.

The move will happen on Saturday, November twenty seventh, at 4:30 Universal Time (Friday, November twenty sixth, at 11:30 p.m. EST) because the spacecraft passes a mere 460 kilometers (286 miles) above the Atlantic, close to northern Africa and the Canary Islands. The move is simply on the higher fringe of low-Earth orbit (LRO), which is the zone the place satellites and the International Space Station fly at an altitude of 420 kilometers (261 miles) above Earth’s floor.

Flyby timeline
A timeline for the Solar Orbiter Earth flyby this weekend. ESA

Solar Orbiter can even move via the outer ring of satellites in geostationary orbit, some 36,000 km above Earth. ESA controllers will assess if a fine-tuning avoidance maneuver is required hours earlier than the move: Russia’s anti-satellite missile test early last week added to the burden of particles in LEO, all of which should be accounted for.

It could also be attainable for well-placed observers to spot Solar Orbiter throughout its flyby Friday night time. The spacecraft will enter Earth’s shadow for simply over 20 minutes, from 23:28:42 to 23:48:53 UT. This will give observers in Europe and northern Africa an opportunity to spy the spacecraft prior to closest method within the pre-dawn hours, and North American observers the possibility to see it emerge from Earth’s shadow on its outbound leg. Solar Orbiter ought to seem as a Eighth-magnitude “star” shifting about 1° (twice the total Moon’s diameter) each three seconds towards the starry background. Heavens-Above has a web page devoted to the occasion. The website additionally allows customers to plot the spacecraft’s trajectory towards the starry background to your given location, one other helpful function.

The greatest way to see Solar Orbiter for your self is to pre-aim both binoculars or a telescope with a large subject of view on the area of the sky the spacecraft will move although, then watch on the appointed time. I like to run WWV shortwave radio within the background to get a exact audio time stamp, permitting me to preserve eyes on the sky.

Unistellar can be running a campaign for eVscope customers to monitor Solar Orbiter, enabling customers to contribute to the precise science of refining the exact orbit for the mission.

Solar Orbiter Science Planned for Earth Flyby

Solar Orbiter can even be busy in the course of the flyby. The mission will analyze Earth’s magnetic subject in the course of the move, permitting ESA scientists to examine the information with observations from each the 4 Cluster satellites (in a distant, 60,000-km orbit) and the three Swarm spacecraft in LEO. Observations of interactions between the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic subject from a number of vantage factors will go a protracted methods in direction of resolving whether or not adjustments detected by spacecraft are adjustments noticed on account of a area itself altering or on account of a spacecraft’s flight taking it via totally different environments. (This uncertainty goes by the flamboyant time period of space-time ambiguity.)

“This flyby is exciting: seeing what Solar Orbiter sees in our part of space, and how that compares to what we are seeing, and if there are surprises, what are they?” mentioned Swarm mission supervisor Anja Strømme (ESA) in a latest press release.

Solar Orbiter on Earth, prior to launch. ESA / S. Corvaja

The completion of the Earth flyby additionally marks the formal begin of the mission’s science part, which is able to proceed till not less than 2026. The spacecraft already made one solar move again in June 2020, which took it 77 million kilometers (0.5 astronomical unit) from our star. During that perihelion, the craft’s devices noticed enigmatic “solar campfires” within the decrease layers of the solar corona, thought to gas coronal heating. Already, Solar Orbiter has generated greater than 50 analysis papers in the course of the mission’s cruise part alone. Mission scientists will examine and distinction findings with these from NASA’s Solar Parker Probe, which is learning the Sun from a lot nearer.

Solar Orbiter path
Solar Orbiter’s convoluted path via the interior solar system. ESA

Then, Solar Orbiter will make its closest perihelion move but in 2022, at simply 50 million kilometers (simply over 0.3 a.u.) distant. That’s comparable to Mercury’s perihelion distance from the Sun. A collection of Venus passes over the subsequent few years can even kick the spacecraft out of the ecliptic plane, setting it up for polar passes over our host star beginning in 2025 and giving us a view of the Sun we’ve by no means had earlier than.

If skies are clear, make certain to catch sight of Solar Orbiter this Friday night time, on its way to probe the mysteries of the Sun.

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