The Photo voltaic Orbiter was struck by a coronal mass ejection simply because it was about to fly by Venus
Massive solar storms on the Sun are becoming more frequent as it transitions into a period of increasing solar activity as part of Solar Cycle 25, expected to peak in 2025. There is a spacecraft that will be positioned very well to capture this increasing activity. Solar Orbiter is currently 25% complete on its ten-year mission to observe the Sun. By 2025 it will be closer than ever to our parent star and has already started observing some fantastic phenomena from our sun.
One of these spectacular phenomena occurred recently during a gravity-assist solar orbiter received from Venus. The Sun had a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Venus and the orbiter. It was almost as if he were jealous that the satellite that was supposed to be studying him was nestled against another celestial body.
Obviously, the orbiter’s presence is not the reason for the Sun’s decision to discharge onto the second planet. And finally, being hit by such an intense solar storm didn’t have any harmful effects on the probe, mainly because it was specifically designed to observe phenomena like the CME.
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ESA video describing the Solar Orbiter mission
Source – ESA YouTube channel
Some of Solar Orbiter’s instruments had to be shut down due to sunlight reflecting off Venus itself. That means they missed collecting data on this CME. Some other instruments stayed on, however, and detected an increase in the number of energetic solar particles near the probe.
There is much we still don’t understand about the heliophysics and the underlying causes of these solar storms. Solar Orbiter itself is just one of several ships actively measuring the sun. One, known as the Vigil, will help us determine the direction of solar storms.
It’s currently difficult to determine whether the storms are heading straight for Earth or straight away — particles from storms in either direction appear like halos around the Sun. But from Vigil’s planned vantage point, the Earth-Sun L5 Lagrange point, it will have a unique vantage point to monitor space weather that could potentially affect Earth and all of its infrastructure.
UT video describing the Solar Orbiter mission
As these additional missions ramp up, Solar Orbiter picks up more of them, eventually planning to become the fastest-moving object ever built by humans. It will continue to monitor the Sun and use Venus as gravitational support for the duration of its mission. The CME she recently suffered will certainly not be the last she will deal with either.
ESA – Coronal mass ejection hits Solar Orbiter ahead of Venus flyby
UT – Solar Orbiter’s images of the Sun are as dramatic as you’d hoped
UT – A colossal flare erupted from the far side of the sun
UT – Two spacecraft fly past Venus just 33 hours apart
Artist’s impression of the sun’s orbit around the sun.
Credit – ESA/ATG medialab