Massive solar storms on the Sun are becoming more common as it transitions into a period of increased solar activity as part of Solar Cycle 25, which is expected to peak in 2025. There is one spacecraft that will be very well positioned to capture this increased activity. The Solar Orbiter currently occupies 25% of the way during its ten-year mission to observe the Sun. By 2025, it will be closer than ever to our parent star, and it’s already beginning to notice some amazing phenomena from our Sun.
One of those amazing phenomena recently occurred during the gravitational pull that the solar orbiter received from Venus. The Sun had a coronal mass ejection (CME) towards Venus and its orbital complex. It was as if he was jealous because the satellite designed to study it was comforting another celestial body.
Clearly, the orbiter’s presence was not the reason for the Sun’s decision to launch toward the second planet. In the end, hitting such a severe solar storm had no detrimental effect on the probe, mainly because it was specifically designed to observe phenomena such as the CME.
Some of the Solar Orbiter’s instruments had to be turned off due to sunlight being reflected off Venus itself. This means that they have lost the ability to collect data on this CME. However, some other instruments were retained and an increase in the number of active solar particles was observed in the vicinity of the probe.
We still don’t understand much about solar physics and the reasons behind these solar storms. Solar Orbiter itself is just one of many vehicles that actively measure the Sun. One, in particular, known as a Vigil, will help us determine the direction of solar storms.
At the moment, it’s hard to tell whether the storms are heading directly toward Earth or directly away from it—particles from storms in both directions appear like halos around the sun. But from Vigil’s planned point of view Earth-Sun L5 Lagrange, it will have a unique angle for observing space weather that could affect Earth and all of its infrastructure.
As these additional missions progress rapidly, Solar Orbiter is picking up more of them, eventually planning to become the fastest being ever built by humans. She will continue to observe the Sun and use Venus for a gravitational aid for the duration of her mission. The CME that you’ve had lately won’t be the last to deal with either.
ESA – Coronal mass ejection hits the solar orbit before Venus flies close to it
Utah – The images of the sun captured by the Solar Orbiter are as dramatic as you could hope
Utah – A massive glow erupted from the far side of the sun
Utah – There are two spacecraft flying across Venus, only 33 hours apart
Artist’s depiction of the heliocentric orbit around the sun.
Credit – ESA/ATG medialab