China has successfully launched yet another advanced solar observatory. The launch of the satellite telescope called ASO-S (Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory) or Kuafu-1 (giant of Chinese mythology who tried to “tame” the Sun) took place over the weekend on a Long March 2D rocket from the launch center Jiuquan satellites of northwest China.
The $126 million, 860-kilogram observatory, developed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was put into a heliosynchronous orbit 720 kilometers from Earth, looking permanently at the Sun 24 hours a day, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
The aim is on the one hand to study in what ways the solar magnetic field creates the huge coronal mass explosions, flares and other solar eruptions and on the other hand to improve the predictions of the potentially dangerous space “weather” for the Earth (geomagnetic storms and other phenomena) which can affect GPS systems, terrestrial telecommunications satellites and power grids.
Astronomers know that the Sun’s magnetic field causes the various explosive episodes on its surface, but the exact mechanisms are complex and not well understood. ASO-S’s three science instruments, which will operate at different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, will shed more light on what’s going on.
The mission will last at least four years, covering the expected peak of the 11-year solar cycle in 2024-25, when many solar flares are predicted. The ship’s data (about 500 gigabytes a day) will be freely accessible, and Chinese researchers say they are open to international collaborations.
China had launched in October 2021 another sun-synchronous but less advanced solar observation satellite, Xihe, placed at a distance of 517 kilometers from Earth. The two best-known solar observatories in operation are the Solar Parker Probe of the American Space Agency (NASA) which was launched in 2018 and the Solar Orbiter of the European Space Agency (ESA) which was launched in 2020. The data from the Chinese observatory will complement the data that other space missions are collecting about the Sun and its hot and explosive atmosphere.
Naftemporiki.gr with information from APE-MPE
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