Aditya-L1, India’s first solar probe launched

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India has launched its first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the Sun, building on a month of historic success for the country’s civil space efforts.

The spacecraft, Aditya-L1, lifted off from Sriharikota in the Bay of Bengal at 11:50 a.m. local time (2:20 a.m. ET) on Saturday. It heads to a parking lot 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

Aditya-L1 was successfully lifted off two weeks after India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, made history by landing its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the lunar surface. The feat made India the fourth country in the world – and the second in the 21st century – to safely land a vehicle on the Moon.

That work is expected to be completed next week.

Meanwhile, Aditya-L1 is heading towards its destination at Lagrange Point 1, a region located between the Sun and Earth, where the gravitational pull of the two celestial bodies cancels each other out. That location would allow Aditya-L1 to remain in orbit, optimally positioned to observe solar activity, with minimal fuel consumption.

According to the space agency, the position will “provide a greater advantage in real-time observation of solar activity and its impact on space weather”.

The spacecraft is equipped with seven science instruments, four of which will be trained directly on the Sun, while others will study the particles and magnetic fields of the solar wind passing through Lagrange Point 1.

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The mission’s main goals include studying various solar phenomena, such as the Sun’s upper atmosphere and coronal mass ejections – or massive ejections of plasma from the Sun’s outer layer.

The information obtained from Aditya-L1’s experiments could provide a clearer picture of space weather or be used to describe magnetic waves in our solar system. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, space storms can impact Earth when they reach our atmosphere, occasionally affecting satellites, radio communications and even power grids.

India’s Aditya-L1 will be the first spacecraft to “touch” the Sun in 2021, including NASA’s current Parker Solar Probe, which will add information to other missions designed to study the Sun.

India’s first dedicated solar power project adds to the country’s status as an emerging space superpower.

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