India’s first solar observation mission will arrive at its destination in a few hours.
On Saturday, the space agency Isro will attempt to position Aditya-L1 in space so that it can continuously observe the Sun.
Since its launch on September 2, the spacecraft has been traveling towards the Sun for four months.
It launched just days after India made history by becoming the first country to land near the Moon’s south pole.
Surya, the Hindu god of the Sun, also known as Aditya, is the name of India’s first space-based mission to study the solar system’s largest object. L1 stands for Lagrange point 1, the precise location between the Sun and Earth to which the spacecraft is traveling.
A Lagrange point, according to the European Space Agency, is a location where the gravitational forces of two large objects, such as the Sun and the Earth, cancel each other out, allowing a spacecraft to “hover.”
L1 is 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) from Earth, or 1% of the Earth-Sun distance. According to Isro, the spacecraft has already traveled the majority of the distance to its destination.
According to an Isro official, “a final maneuver” to place Aditya in L1’s orbit will take place on Saturday at around 16:00 India time (10:30 GMT).
Isro chief S Somanath has stated that they will trap the craft in orbit and will occasionally need to perform additional maneuvers to keep it there.
Aditya-L1 will be able to orbit the Sun at the same rate as the Earth once it reaches this “parking spot.” It will be able to observe the Sun continuously, even during eclipses and occultations, and conduct scientific research from this vantage point.
The orbiter carries seven scientific instruments that will observe and study the solar corona (the outermost layer); the photosphere (the Sun’s surface or the part visible from Earth); and the chromosphere (a thin layer of plasma that lies between the photosphere and the corona).
After taking off on September 2, the spacecraft circled the Earth four times before exiting the Earth’s orbit on September 30. Isro announced in early October that it had made a minor correction to its trajectory to ensure it was on its intended path to the final destination.
According to the agency, some of the instruments on board have already begun collecting data and taking images.
Just days after launch, Isro released the mission’s first images: one of the Earth and the Moon in one frame, and the other was a “selfie” of two of its scientific instruments.
The agency also released the first-ever full-disk images of the Sun in wavelengths ranging from 200 to 400 nanometres last month, claiming they provided “insights into the intricate details of the Sun’s photosphere and chromosphere.”
According to scientists, the mission will aid in their understanding of solar activity, such as solar wind and solar flares, and their impact on Earth and near-space weather in real time.
The Sun’s radiation, heat, particle flow, and magnetic fields constantly influence Earth’s weather. They also have an impact on space weather, where nearly 7,800 satellites are stationed, including more than 50 from India.
Scientists believe Aditya can help better understand, and even forewarn about, solar winds or eruptions in the coming days, allowing India and other countries to move satellites out of harm’s way.
Isro has not disclosed the mission’s cost, but reports in the Indian press put it at 3.78 billion rupees ($46 million; £36 million).
If the maneuver on Saturday is successful, India will join a small group of countries that are already studying the Sun.
Nasa, the United States space agency, has been monitoring the Sun since the 1960s; Japan launched its first solar mission in 1981; and the European Space Agency (ESA) has been monitoring the Sun since the 1990s.
In February 2020, NASA and ESA launched a Solar Orbiter to study the Sun up close and collect data that scientists hope will help them understand what drives its dynamic behavior.
In 2021, NASA’s newest spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe, made history by becoming the first to fly through the Sun’s corona.