China launches solar observation satellites • The Register

China has launched a sun-observing satellite to conduct a four-year mission, staring at Sol to understand its mysteries.

The Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory, nicknamed Kuafu-1, launched Sunday morning on a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The satellite has made it into synchronous orbit 720 kilometers (about 450 miles) above the Earth’s surface, where it will face the Sun at all times except for a few minutes a day between May and August.

“ASO-S is capable of studying the Sun 24/7 for most of the year,” Gan Weiqun, the satellite’s chief scientist, told state-sponsored media. “His longest daily downtime is no more than 18 minutes when he briefly walks through the shadow of the earth every day from May to August.”

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Kuafu-1 is expected to operate for up to four years, sending 500GB of data a day to ground stations in Sanya, Kashgar and Beijing as it probes the Sun’s magnetic field, solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). During solar flares, the satellite can send images every second.

From the ground stations, the data is sent in packets to a 2,048-core computer at the Purple Mountain Observatory. Chinese authorities have not provided any details about the machine other than the number of cores.

The 888 kg (1957.7 lb) satellite is equipped with a Full Disk MagnetoGraph (FMG), a Lyman Alpha Solar Telescope (LST) and a Hard X-ray Imager (HXI). The FMG measures the vectorial magnetic field, the LST measures the near-corona light emitted by the Sun’s full disk in the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths — known as the Lyman-alpha bandwidth — and the HXI detects high-energy ones Radiation during solar flares.

Work on the $140 million mission began in 2012. China has been scrambling to get the observatory in position before 2025, the expected peak of activity in the current 11-year solar cycle.

China’s first solar observatory joins NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency’s already-orbiting Solar Orbiter.

ESA’s Solar Orbiter recently revealed how solar serpentines – the phenomena that cause the Sun’s magnetic field to flip – form.

The Parker Solar Probe was the first spacecraft to literally touch the sun. His mission goals are to trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind, learn about magnetic fields, and determine what makes energetic particles move.

Both Parker and the ESA effort will get much closer to Sol than Kuafu-1. Parker will be within just seven million kilometers (4.4 million miles) of Sol, and Europa’s vehicle will be within 30 million clicks (18.6 million miles).

Going into space to study the Sun might seem like a bit of a stretch – after all, that’s where it is. You can see it with the naked eye (but seriously, don’t). Studying the star from afar — particularly from Earth — yields limited results as the atmosphere absorbs and attenuates solar emissions. Stepping out of the atmosphere is like taking off the blinders and seeing the sun in a whole new light. ® China launches solar observation satellites • The Register

Rick Schindler

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