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Solar Orbiter space mission to study the Sun sends back first set of images

16 July 2020

A space mission to study the Sun has sent back its first set of images to Earth. One of the instruments on board the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft was designed and built by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space.

The images from RAL Space’s Spectral Investigation of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument, alongside measurements from Solar Orbiter’s 9 other instruments, show that they are already observing unknown phenomena and are ready for further scientific observations as it travels closer to the Sun and images the poles for the first time.

RAL Space led the large international consortium to design and build the SPICE instrument and has been responsible for commissioning the instrument since launch.

Dr Andrzej Fludra, the SPICE Instrument Consortium lead and a Co-Principal Investigator from RAL Space said:

"We are delighted to see the first spectra and images from SPICE. They promise to solve the outstanding questions about the dynamic processes and composition of the Sun’s atmosphere. Spectroscopy is a powerful tool for the diagnostic of fundamental processes in hot plasmas. Each spectral line gives us a piece of the puzzle - combining information from all lines reveals the amazing complexity of the atmosphere."

Spectroscopy is the study of light as a function of length of the wave that has been emitted, reflected or shone through a solid, liquid or gas.

This first glimpse of data from SPICE will help unravel the mysteries of the origin of the solar wind by giving researchers measurements of the temperature, composition and speed of plasma flowing out from the Sun's atmosphere.

Find out more on the RAL Space website.

Last updated: 23 July 2020

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