After the successful mission of Chandrayaan-3, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is gearing up for the launch of its solar mission, Aditya-L1. Prior to the launch of India’s solar mission, a prominent scientist has suggested the need for continuous monitoring of the Sun for 24 hours to study solar earthquakes, as they can impact Earth’s magnetic fields. The Aditya-L1 spacecraft is set to launch from the Sriharikota Spaceport in Andhra Pradesh at 11:50 AM on Saturday.
“Solar Quakes Occur on the Sun’s Surface Similar to Earthquakes”
Explaining the necessity of studying the Sun, Dr. Ramesh, a leading scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), stated that just like earthquakes occur on Earth’s surface, solar earthquakes, also known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), take place on the Sun’s surface. He mentioned that during this process, millions of tons of solar material are expelled into interplanetary space. These CMEs can travel at speeds of approximately 3,000 kilometers per second.
Dr. Ramesh further explained that CMEs can sometimes pose a threat to satellites by causing damage, as the discharge of particles during CMEs can affect all the electronic instruments on board. He emphasized that CMEs can affect satellites from all directions. For instance, in 1989, a massive solar explosion in the solar corona resulted in power disruptions in the city of Quebec, Canada, for nearly 72 hours. Similarly, in 2017, Switzerland’s Zurich Airport was affected for about 14 to 15 hours due to CMEs.
Dr. Ramesh added that once CMEs reach Earth, they can travel along magnetic field lines and can even affect high-voltage transformers if the Earth’s magnetic field is significantly disturbed. He pointed out that CMEs act as large magnets with both north and south poles.
The Importance of Continuous Sun Monitoring
He emphasized the importance of establishing a monitoring center for continuous Sun observation, which is feasible from a point known as the Lagrangian-1 (L1) point. India is launching the Aditya-L1 mission to position its satellite at the Lagrangian-1 point. Dr. Ramesh noted that officials from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore felt the need to monitor the Sun 24/7 to observe any changes on the Sun’s surface comprehensively.
Dr. Ramesh explained that Sun observation can be done using telescopes on Earth but faces two major challenges. Firstly, there are only about eight to nine hours available in a day for Sun observation since this can only be done during daylight hours, not at night. Secondly, when observing the Sun from Earth, the sunlight can get scattered by dust particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, potentially leading to blurry images. Therefore, to overcome these limitations, it was necessary to place a telescope in space for uninterrupted 24-hour Sun monitoring.
He mentioned that there are five convenient points where the Sun can be observed continuously, known as Lagrange points. Among them, L1, where Aditya-L1 is going to be stationed, is the most suitable. L1 is located at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, precisely between the Earth and the Sun. Dr. Ramesh estimated that it would take more than 100 days for the Aditya-L1 space mission to reach the Lagrangian-1 point.
This mission is unique as it will enable scientists to observe solar phenomena like CMEs and changes in the solar magnetosphere from a vantage point close to where they originate on the Sun’s surface. The insights gained from the Aditya-L1 mission will be invaluable for understanding and mitigating the potential impact of solar disturbances on Earth’s technology and environment.