ESA's SOHO will lead a fleet of solar observatories

May 24, 2006
ESA's SOHO will lead a fleet of solar observatories
This image of the Sun was taken by SOHO's EIT (Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope) instrument on 23 May 2006. EIT can take images of the solar atmosphere at several wavelengths, and therefore it is able to show solar material at different temperatures. In the images taken at 304 Angstroms the bright material is at 60 000 to 80 000 ºC. In those taken at 171, at one million degrees; 195 Angstrom images correspond to about 1.5 million ºC; 284 Angstrom, to 2 million degrees. The hotter the temperature, the higher you look in the solar atmosphere. Credits: ESA, NASA, SOHO/EIT team

New funding, to extend the mission of ESA's venerable solar watchdog SOHO, will ensure it plays a leading part in the fleet of solar spacecraft scheduled to be launched over the next few years.

Since its launch on 2 December 1995, The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has provided an unprecedented view of the Sun – and not just the side facing the Earth. Two teams have now developed techniques for using SOHO to recreate the conditions on the far side of the Sun. The new funding will allow its mission to be extended from April 2007 to December 2009. Despite being over ten years old now, SOHO just keeps on working, monitoring the activity on the Sun and allowing scientists to see inside the Sun by recording the seismic waves that ripple across the surface of our nearest star.

More than 2300 scientists have used data from the solar observatory to forward their research, publishing over 2400 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. During the last two years, at least one SOHO paper has been accepted for publication every working day.

"This mission extension will allow SOHO to cement its position as the most important spacecraft in the history of solar physics," says Bernhard Fleck, SOHO's project scientist, "There is a lot of valuable work for this spacecraft still to do."

During the next two years, five new solar spacecraft will join SOHO in orbit. ESA is involved in two of these spacecraft. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS/JAXA) has built Solar B and will launch it later this year. ESA will supply the use of a ground station at Svalbard, Norway in exchange for access to the data.

Next year, ESA will launch Proba-2, a technology demonstration satellite that carries solar instruments. In particular, it will carry a complementary instrument to SOHO's EIT camera. Whilst EIT concentrates on the origin and early development of solar eruptions, Proba-2's camera will be able to track them into space.

NASA plans to launch the STEREO pair of spacecraft later this year, and the Solar Dynamics Orbiter in 2008. Far from making SOHO obsolete, these newer solar satellites embrace it as a crucial member of the team. SOHO will provide a critical third point of view to assist the analysis of STEREO's observations. Also, SOHO's coronagraph will remain unique. The instrument is capable of blotting out the glare from the Sun so that the tenuous outer atmosphere of the Sun is visible for study.

"By next year, we will have a fleet of spacecraft studying the Sun," says Hermann Opgenoorth, Head of Solar System Missions Division at ESA. This will advance the International Living With a Star programme (ILWS), an international collaboration of scientists dedicated to a long-term study of the Sun and its effects on Earth and the other solar system planets.

ILWS will possibly culminate in the launch of the advanced ESA satellite, Solar Orbiter, around 2015. It is designed to travel close to the Sun, to gain a close-up look at the powerful processes at the heart of our Solar System.

Source: European Space Agency

Explore further: NASA missions monitor a waking black hole

Related Stories

Image: SOHO captures bright filament eruption

May 05, 2015

An elongated solar filament that extended almost half the sun's visible hemisphere erupted into space on April 28-29, 2015, in a large burst of bright plasma. Filaments are unstable strands of solar material ...

Prospects for Q1 PanSTARRS & G2 MASTER comets

May 08, 2015

Did you catch the performance of Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy earlier this year? Every year provides a few sure bets and surprises when it comes to binocular comets, and while we may still be long overdue for ...

Video: An enormous "plasma snake" erupts from the Sun

May 01, 2015

Over the course of April 28–29 a gigantic filament, briefly suspended above the surface of the sun, broke off and created an enormous snakelike eruption of plasma that extended millions of miles out into ...

Image: The abstract science of the dynamic Sun

Jan 14, 2014

The placid appearance of the Sun's surface belies a hot fireball of plasma in constant turmoil. A granular network invisible to the naked eye pervades the solar disc, with cells of hotter and colder plasma ...

Recommended for you

NASA missions monitor a waking black hole

7 hours ago

NASA's Swift satellite detected a rising tide of high-energy X-rays from the constellation Cygnus on June 15, just before 2:32 p.m. EDT. About 10 minutes later, the Japanese experiment on the International ...

What is the habitable zone?

16 hours ago

The weather in your hometown is downright uninhabitable. There's scorching heatwaves, annual tyhpoonic deluges, and snow deep enough to bury a corn silo.

Galaxy survey to probe why the universe is accelerating

17 hours ago

We know that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, but what causes this growth remains a mystery. The most likely explanation is that a strange force dubbed "dark energy" is driving it. Now a ...

High resolution far-infrared all-sky image data release

18 hours ago

A research group led by a University of Tokyo researcher, using the AKARI satellite's Far-Infrared All-Sky data, have created all-sky image maps and released the full database to researchers around the world ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.