When solar missions work together, new scientific questions can emerge, physicist says

India and NASA will collaborate on Aditya L1, the solar mission scheduled for launch next year; the first working group meeting is being planned, says Madhulika Guhathakurta of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

India and NASA will collaborate on Aditya L1, the solar mission scheduled for launch next year; the first working group meeting is being planned, says Madhulika Guhathakurta of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Indian Institute of Technology Madras, US Consulate General Chennai and Indian Space Association (ISA) are jointly organizing a conclave on “Space Technology: The Next Commercial Frontier” in Chennai.

Madhulika Guhathakurta, Senior Advisor for New Initiatives, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Heliophysics Division, who is visiting the city to participate in the three-day conclave, spoke with The Hindu on the growing interest in studying the sun and the collaborations between India and NASA regarding Aditya L1 – India’s solar mission due to launch next year.

Dr. Guhathakurta is the lead scientist for the Living With a Star program, which focuses on understanding and predicting the variability of the sun and its effects on earth, human technology and astronauts in space. It is an international initiative that works with institutions around the world to understand space weather and its connection to the Earth’s atmosphere. She is also the program scientist of the STEREO mission, launched in 2006, which consists of two spacecraft, one moving in front of the earth and the other behind, moving around the sun and giving a stereoscopic image (in three dimensions) of the sun.

Sun imaging

“STEREO with the Solar Dynamics Observatory has changed the way we look at the sun,” she said. “With its set of five telescopes, for the first time, we were able to image the solar wind. We were no longer just talking about the solar wind, we were actually seeing it.

She recalled how, when they started the “Living with a Star” program in the 2000s, the lab was called the Sun-Earth Connections division, because the subject “Heliophysics” was not born at the time. . This program aimed to pursue science at the intersection of curiosity-driven science and what is relevant to society as it relates to the Sun-Earth system.

The situation today is very different and heliophysics has taken on its full meaning. Indian heliophysicists and the Indian Space Research Organization plan to launch a mission to study the Sun – Aditya-L1.

“We are working with them,” Dr Guhathakurta said. “We are trying to set up our first working group meeting for Aditya.”

Global perspective

She added that if any mission can do its own particular science, with its own setup and instruments provided, when studying the sun and its effects on the earth and the interplanetary medium, what is really needed is is a global perspective. “You need the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Parker Solar Probe, the Solar Orbiter, and other missions orbiting the L1 Lagrange point or even STEREO,” she said.

When you start looking at the sun through the different observatories, putting all of this together, the results are much more powerful, both in terms of science and perspective. “Each mission has its main objectives, but when they come together, we can ask new types of questions,” she added.

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